Governor signs Becnel Survivor Notification Act

Published 11:26 am Friday, July 8, 2022

BATON ROUGE — Chad Becnel’s life as he knew it ended more than 30 years ago when he was sexually abused by Brian Matherne, a former teacher and coach at Sacred Heart in Norco.

Matherne pleaded guilty to numerous felony charges of child molestation in February 2000 and was strategically sentenced to 29 years, 11 months and 29 days to avoid eligibility for an early release.

That’s why Becnel was caught off guard when he learned Matherne had been erroneously released from prison, more than seven years early, in February 2022.

“I just knew it was wrong in my deepest, darkest gut,” Becnel said. “We had to deal with it quickly and swiftly. He was released on the 7th of February, and I found out on the 22nd. He was put back in jail on March 3. Once we had him incarcerated, the mission became making a wrong a right.”

Victims’ families took one step closer to justice Tuesday afternoon when Governor John Bel Edwards signed the Becnel Survivor Notification Act, which requires the Department of Public Safety and Corrections to notify the appropriate parties no later than 60 days prior to the release of an incarcerated individual who has been convicted of a crime of violence or sex offense.

Becnel said the new law, which goes into effect August 1, allows survivors and their families time to prepare for and/or appeal the release of a perpetrator.

Victims were previously required to be notified by certified mail 10 days in advance of a perpetrator’s release from incarceration. Becnel was never notified in advance of Matherne’s release. His family found out weeks later, after information about Matherne’s release was published in Tangipahoa Parish.

“Ten days would have been great if they would have even given us that. The reason we opted for a 60-day notification is if you put someone away for what we thought was 29 years, 11 months and 29 days, you have to have more than 30 days to get yourself ready and learn to accept this all over again. You will feel all of the feelings that you felt when it happened,” Becnel said.

“In 30 days, you could get your things in order, but you might not have the time to psychologically deal with it. Sixty days should be enough time to accept that person entering the world, or 60 days gives you enough time to appeal the release of that person based on good behavior. Ten days never gave you enough time to go before pardons and parole.”

The Becnel Survivor Notification Act also presents the option for victims to sign up for electronic notification via text message and email, rather than having to rely exclusively on certified mail.

State representative Gregory Miller of Norco was among 40 co-authors of the Becnel Survivor Notification Act. Miller admires Becnel’s bravery and the courage of his family, and he was grateful to walk beside them through the legislative process.

“Ten days, especially by regular mail, is almost laughable because of the fact that the mail does not work the way it used to work. There is no assurance anybody would get a letter sent from the Department of Corrections or anywhere else within 10 days, much less have time to do something about it,” Miller said. “The 60 days will allow more time to investigate and make sure that the proposed release date is correct. That way more sets of eyes will be on it…We need to make sure sentencings are being properly inputted and communicated.”

During Tuesday’s ceremonial signing at the State Capitol, Gov. Edwards came face-to-face with Becnel’s family and apologized for Matherne’s erroneous good time release. According to Edwards, DOC employees manually track inmates’ release dates and “do the best they can, but in this case it wasn’t enough.”

“That was great, but I didn’t really need to governor to apologize,” Becnel said. “It was the DOC that admitted no fault and even went on record saying nothing would happen to the employees that made the mistake.”

Becnel said the lack of apology from the DOC makes him even more adamant about producing bills to fight for further reform in the criminal justice system, especially as it relates to sentencing for sex crimes against children.

“Our next goals are to reform how long pedophiles are to be incarcerated on many levels, tier one, two and three, but mainly tier two and three,” Becnel said. “It’s my feeling that a child molester, whoever that person affects, essentially murders that person because you will never be the same as you were before. Hopefully through a support system that we can build going forward, people can reach out and we can help give a voice to the voiceless. That’s the kind of crusade that we are going to lead.”

Becnel also has plans to reactivate his nonprofit called STOP — Survivors Talking Openly about Pedophilia.

Becnel is always open to sharing his story and lending a listening ear to survivors. He can be reached by phone at 504-273-3061 or by email at becnelchad@gmail.com.