Man acquitted on murder charges wants his name cleared

Published: Feb. 28, 2023 at 12:50 PM EST
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - Many remember him as the man wanted for murder, but now 24-year-old Kelvin Waye is a free man, acquitted by a jury this month on all charges.

It’s a new reality that he was still processing a couple days after he was released from jail and reunited with his young family.

“My life really was on the line because of a lie, it could have been over with,” Waye said.

During an exclusive interview with WTOC Investigates, Waye said he was wrongfully accused in the April 7, 2020, shooting death of 20-year-old Roderick Matthews. His defense attorney John Rodman said the police and prosecutors made false statements that kept his client in jail for close to three years.

In a statement, Savannah Police said they thoroughly investigated the homicide and developed Waye as the suspect, and there is no evidence to suggest there are any additional suspects at large in the case.

But the version of Kelvin Way presented by police and the Chatham County District Attorney’s Office is drastically different than how his family and attorney knew him.

“Kelvin Waye was twice the City of Savannah employee of the month,” Rodman said. “He graduated high school in three years because he took AP classes in middle school. He was the battalion commander of his JROTC unit in high school.”

What many people remember is the day he was arrested.

“It was ammunition bombs, smoke bombs, they kept throwing them at the house, they kept shaking the house,” Waye said.

On May 13, 2020, the SWAT team shut down a neighborhood in Port Wentworth and surrounded a house with guns drawn. 21-year-old Waye was inside and terrified to come out.

“I’m thinking. I’m being falsely accused, for this,” he said. “They know I got a legal firearm in my name and I’m Black. I’m a young African-American male, so for me to just walk out there and I know how police brutality goes.”

The standoff lasted hours until he heard his mother’s voice on the police bullhorn.

“She said, ‘Son, it’s your momma out here. If you’re in there, you can come out.’ That’s when I finally complied,” he said.

Police arrested him on a murder warrant. They said he killed Roderick Matthews during a shootout in the Frazier Homes Community in Savannah. Waye told them he didn’t do it and was out of town at the time of the shooting.

The only connection he has to Matthews is they both went to Savannah High School.

“We (weren’t) even in the same grade,” Waye said. “After high school we had no communication and I graduated high school in 2016.”

But detectives based their arrest on what Matthews’ girlfriend told police. She told them she was with Matthews outside her apartment around 7:30 p.m. when he was shot. She said he was holding her small child when gunfire erupted. Police marked more than 30 shell casings at the scene. None of her children were injured and neither was she. She named Waye as the shooter.

Several other witnesses gave detailed descriptions of the three boys they saw leaving the area after the shooting, according to a copy of the police report.

The suspected shooter was a “dark-skinned Black male with a twistys hairstyle and wearing a white T shirt.”

Another witness said the shooter was “a brown skin guy about 5′5 with hair in between twistys and afro.”

Another person described the shooter as “a lil’ chubby and dark-skinned.”

Waye’s defense attorney said none of those descriptions matched his client. In the police report, another person was named as a possible suspect, and interviewed by the police.

After his arrest, prosecutors pursued malice murder charges, secured an indictment and repeatedly asked a judge to deny bond.

During a Dec. 1 bond hearing, a detective testified about cell phone mapping data and said it placed Waye at the scene at the time of the shooting.

It’s one of several pieces of evidence the state said it had that didn’t exist at trial.

“You’re the prosecutor, you know this,” Rodman said. “It’s either in your case file or it isn’t, so to go into court and make claims that you cannot back up and to do it multiple times over numerous months, that becomes ethically problematic.”

Rodman, who has been a criminal defense attorney for 15 years, said the revolving door of prosecutors on the case didn’t help.

“Not only did the state pursue the wrong man, but in all that time that the innocent man stayed locked up that perpetrator was still out there,” he said.

Waye said he used his time in jail to write a business plan and has dreams of going to law school.

“I was never a bad kid. I was always doing something productive or positive, but this situation made me aim for that even more, not just for me but for my kids and my family,” he said.

Matthews’ mother Tonya Bostic said her family was denied justice in her son’s murder.

WTOC Investigates asked Chatham County District Attorney Shalena Cook Jones for an interview and sent specific questions. In response, DA Jones sent the following statement:

“I respect Mr. Rodman as a member of the bar and his right to have his own opinions and theories about the State’s case, but this does not make them true. Reasonable minds often disagree on the evidence and this is exactly why jury trials exist. Clear cut cases get plead. Unprovable cases get dismissed. But those that fall in the middle, like this one, are and should be left for an impartial body of citizens to decide. As prosecutors, we try the cases we are given, with the evidence we are given, on the trial date we are given. Like many other cases, there were investigative and evidentiary issues in this case such as the age of this case, a dead eyewitness, no murder weapon, no ballistics, no fingerprints, no DNA, witness credibility issues, extinguished memories, and an apparent lack of follow through by prior officers and staff members assigned to it since 2020. But, as prosecutors, the goal is not to try perfect cases, but to try imperfect cases perfectly. I applaud the tireless effort, skill and professionalism of Chief Michele Harris, ADA Bonnie Jones, Det. Jordan, DA investigators, advocates and staff who inherited this case and tried it professionally to its conclusion. Though disappointed in the outcome, we respect the decision of the jurors and appreciate their service.”

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