He confessed on YouTube to killing a man, and has served his time
In the summer of 2013, Vincent Canzani was in the middle of making a fresh start. He had just moved back home to the Columbus, Ohio area after his 10-year marriage ended in divorce. The 61-year-old Navy veteran had recently reconnected with his daughter, made some new friends, and had started working a new job.
Then, in the predawn hours of June 22, a pickup truck going the wrong way on the interstate hit Canzani head-on, killing him. The driver, 22-year-old Matthew Cordle, drew national attention a few months later, when he released a video confession on YouTube titled “I killed a man.”
Now, after serving six years in prison, Cordle has been released — bringing up the same questions of forgiveness, sincerity, and potential for redemption that arose in the wake of Canzani’s killing.
In the video confession, Cordle, who was initially uncooperative with police, pledged to take “full responsibility for everything I’ve done to Vincent and his family.” He pleaded guilty to aggravated vehicular homicide and operating a vehicle while impaired, and was sentenced to 6 and a half years.
Last week, Cordle, now 28, successfully petitioned the court to release him on parole, having completed 6 years of that sentence.
CNN spoke with Cordle and members of the Canzani family this week about forgiveness, his debt to society, and how they feel about his release.
The culmination of years of drinking
In his video confession, Cordle said he was drinking “really heavily,” that night, “just hopping from bar to bar.”
Court documents show that Cordle told a pre-sentencing investigator in 2013 that he often drove under the influence. When Cordle’s blood was tested at the hospital, following the crash, it came back at .191 BAC, just over twice the legal limit.
“It wasn’t really different than any other night, that’s the most frustrating part about it,” Cordle recalled in an interview this week.
He said he still regrets that he failed to take responsibility for his actions and take control of his drinking sooner. The night of Canzani’s death was the culmination of years of drinking that he linked to depression.
“I had help,” he said. “I had the support of family and friends. I never took inventory of where I was at.”
“I think about it all the time,” he added, “How would I (have reached) myself?”
Cordle said his time in prison had been about trying to get his life together. The first step, he said, was admitting what he’d done. But he said it took about 4 years of incarceration before he really felt like he was “following through” on taking responsibility.
Cordle kept a blog sporadically during his time in prison. “Prison is mostly a mental battle with yourself, daily,” he wrote in 2014. “There’s a lot of negativity; drugs, alcohol, violence, sexual violence, gang activity, and basically anything else you can imagine.”
He participated in a year-long alcohol and substance abuse recovery program that same year, and stayed in the program as a mentor for several years, court records say. Cordle earned an associate degree in social sciences while in prison, and is currently two semesters away from a bachelor’s degree in psychology.
In the eyes of the law, Cordle’s now paid his debt to society. But he disagrees.
“I owe a much bigger debt than that,” he said. “No matter what I do I can’t bring Vince back.”
Reconnecting with her father, then suddenly losing him
Angela Canzani remembers her father as a friendly man.
“Everybody just loved him,” she told CNN.
Having returned to the Columbus area for only a few months, he had already developed a group of friends at a local cigar shop, and eventually started working shifts there on the side.
“He was a good listener,” Angela said of her father. “He would always be understanding. He was good about seeing other sides of things.”
She said her father was a talented photographer, who had tried to launch a family photography business. He was a veteran of the Navy and a skilled clarinet player, having had years of daily instruction as a child.
Angela Canzani said her relationship with her father wasn’t always a close one. Vincent and Angela’s mother had split up when she was 2 years old, she said, and her father moved out of state. He returned, remarried, to the state when she was 16.
“I always got along with him,” she said. “He was always fun to be around. I didn’t see him enough.”
Vincent divorced again late in 2012. Soon after, Angela said, he moved to Columbus.
“He had just moved to Columbus to be closer to my sister and I,” Angela said. “I had had a falling out with him — I was hesitant to get back in touch with him.”
“Then he was killed,” she said. “It was horrible timing.”
Not wanting to see two lives lost
Cheryl North, then Cheryl Oates, had divorced Vincent Canzani in December. In June, he was dead. It was awful, she told CNN. “The whole situation makes me sad.”
And yet, as Cordle was facing a maximum sentence of 8-and-a-half years, North wrote a letter to the court on his behalf. In her letter, Oates said her former husband would not want to see two lives lost as a result of the crash. She said she didn’t believe Canzani would want to see Cordle receive the maximum sentence.
“Nothing will bring Vincent back,” she said in her letter. “I know what pain Matthew feels. The pain will stay with him until his death.”
Cordle and North remained in touch during his time in prison, both told CNN.
“I still talk to her,” Cordle said. “I consider it to be one of the most fortunate relationships I’ve been able to make.”
Cordle said that in her correspondence, North would tell her about Vincent, who he was and what he was like.
“I got to know him as a man,” Cordle said. “It helped me connect with what I’ve taken away.”
Asked what it was like to be on the receiving end of North’s mercy, Cordle said it’s been hard.
“It was difficult, still is difficult,” he said. “She was talking to me. Worried about me.”
“It’s very uncomfortable even to think about,” he said of her warmth, “I try to accept it. It’s a good thing.”
For her part, North told CNN that she respects what Cordle has accomplished while in prison.
“I believe, as a result of this tragedy that he will have a positive effect while helping people overcome similar issues,” she said.
Seeing his release as a betrayal
Angela Canzani, however, has not been so sanguine.
“Six years is not enough for a death,” she said.
Angela said she sees Cordle’s request to be released six months early as a betrayal.
“One of the things he said he was going to do was not try to get out of prison early,” she said. “We’re talking about a death. There shouldn’t be anybody getting out early.”
Angela said she thought Cordle’s confession video had been self-serving, saying that Cordle hadn’t cooperated with authorities in the months leading up to its recording.
“It was a stunt. All of it,” she said. “I don’t think he ever intended on following through on his promise. He just said what sounded good.”
She said Cordle never apologized to her directly.
“If I could see some sincerity, that’s what I’ve hoped to see this whole time,” she added. “But I haven’t seen it. True empathy — I haven’t seen it. That would have made a world of difference.”
Ultimately, though, Angela wanted the narrative to stop focusing on Cordle.
“I want people to remember the person who actually died,” she said. “That person had a life, and hopes, and they are no longer here.”
Meanwhile, this week, Cordle is getting used to his freedom.
“It’s a really, really strange feeling. It’s a bit overwhelming,” he said. “It’s been wonderful seeing my family and being able to hold them and touch them and talk with them.”
“There’s so much I need to do to get back on my feet and live a responsible life,” he said.
Cordle talked to CNN while on his way to speak at an intervention program for first time DUI offenders. He said he planned on finishing his bachelor’s degree in psychology and hoped to find work in substance abuse counseling.
While in prison, Matthew and his sister Sarah started a website called “Save Your Victim,” which sought to connect people with resources for safe rides home from bars and raise awareness of the dangers of drunk driving.
Cordle said that now that he’s out of prison, he hopes to dedicate more time to efforts like “safe ride events” in Columbus during popular bar nights.
Cordle said he understood those who felt that his request for an early release went back on his initial pledge to take full responsibility.
“I feel I’d be more use to society (free) than sitting in my jail cell,” he said.
But for their differences, Cordle and Angela Canzani had identical messages this week.
“Focus on Vince,” Cordle said when asked what he hoped readers would take away from this story. “Focus on the life that was lost.”
“This all could have been avoided if I had just made one quick decision,” he said.
Kisa Mlela Santiago contributed to this report