Chad Becnel said he felt a mix of emotions when he drove to Baton Rouge earlier this month.
“I had anxiety, but it was that this was finally coming to a close,” he said. “All of this is coming to a close … there’s always been this fear of what’s next.”
Becnel’s trip to the state capitol came on the heels of months of work from State Rep. Greg Miller, R-Norco. Miller quickly moved earlier this year to sponsor a bill to require the Department of Corrections to notify prosecutors and victims at least 60 days prior to the release of inmates convicted of crimes of sex or violence, using email and text messages as well as certified mail.
It’s called the Becnel Survivors Notification Act.
Becnel said he lived every assault victim’s worst nightmare earlier this year when he found out that Brian Matherne had been mistakenly released from prison over seven years early.
Matherne, 66, coached several boys’ sports and taught various subjects at Norco’s Sacred Heart of Jesus School for over 20 years. Becnel was the first victim who spoke out and levied allegations against Matherne in 1999, which paved the way for more victims to eventually come forward.
“I was the first one and I was the first one for about four months,” Becnel said. “We were definitely ostracized … my family was shunned. We were drug through the mud for those months.”
Becnel said when the allegations were first made public, community members and Sacred Heart teachers wore ribbons in their show of solidarity – not for Becnel, but for Matherne.
Becnel’s sister Doreen Becnel Landry said her family “went through hell” during the time.
“Matherne was a pillar of the community,” she said. “People said that my brother’s accusations of being molested were all lies. Matherne is a complete monster who molested all these young boys during his 22 years of teaching. His early release shocked and maddened me to my core.”
Matherne was charged in 1999 with several hundred counts of child sex abuse. In 2000 he pleaded guilty in St. Charles Parish to molesting 17 boys during a 15-year period that ended in 1999.
Judge Robert Chaisson of the 29th Judicial District Court sentenced Matherne to 29 years, 11 months and 29 days. The sentence structure was crucial – a sentence of 30 years or more would have meant Matherne would eventually be eligible for parole or to be released early for exemplary behavior.
When they found Matherne was released early, Becnel said he and his family immediately reached out to the DOC to try and learn why.
“I personally asked the lady on the phone if this possible … that this could have been a mistake,” Becnel said. “She told me that this was looked at by three people and she said, ‘We don’t make mistakes.’ It would have actually gone unnoticed if we didn’t call.”
Matherne was re-arrested after his mistaken release. The DOC has yet to issue an apology, but Becnel said when Gov. John Bel Edwards met with the Becnel family face-to-face at the State Capitol he did apologize to them.
“I appreciate the governor’s apology … I wasn’t expecting it, but I appreciate it,” Becnel said. “But at the end of the day in order for myself and my family to get closure I think we are owed an apology from the DOC. They won’t even acknowledge what happened. Do you know how the number of times the DOC mistakenly releases someone prior to their release date? 125 per year on average … and that’s just in Louisiana.”
Becnel said if he or any of the other victims would have been notified about Matherne’s release, it could have been stopped. During Matherne’s nearly 30 days of freedom he was living just a little over a mile from a school and within less than 50 yards from several children.
The lack of any notification is what inspired the bill.
“There was not a bump in the road,” Landry said of the law’s passage. “Everything passed unanimously.”
She added that she and her family are thankful that Miller, as well as Senator Gary Smith, worked so hard to see the act’s passage.
“They worked really hard on this,” she said. “If it wasn’t for these two guys seeing it through it wouldn’t have happened. To get a bill signed, sealed and delivered this fast is like a record. They’re local, so they had a personal attachment to this. I think it’s because of their hard work, their dedication … they didn’t want to let this community down. They wanted to show everyone their commitment to making a wrong a right.”
The brother and sister duo said next up is more advocacy for survivors and their rights.
“We want to advocate for others going forward,” Becnel said. “This turned a negative into a positive.”
To register as a victim and to receive notifications according to the Becnel Survivors Notification Act, visit https://doc.louisiana.gov and click on the top tab that reads “Public Programs.”