Death row exoneree Juan Roberto Melendez spoke tonight at the Seattle University School of Law, telling of his nearly 18 years on Florida’s death row for a murder he didn’t commit. Juan described a short trial, which the judge still complained was too long; with evidence including a confession from the real killer emerging years later.
Juan talked about his anger on death row, and other prisoners befriending him and teaching him to read and write English and more. He described the deaths of many of his friends on death row itself, through suicide and a friend who died of a heart attack or stroke on the exercise area. His friend collapsed while playing basketball. The guards called for the nurse, a white man who was chewing and spitting tobacco, just took his time getting there, then getting the oxygen, then saying that one was empty and he would need to go back for another one. Juan asked why couldn’t mouth to mouth resuscitation be done. The nurse responded with racial epithets why he wouldn’t help a black man. Juan finally convinced them to let him try, but it was too late and his friend died in his arms.
Juan talked about considering suicide himself, and even bribing the guard for a plastic bag to tie up and hang himself with (as some of his friends had); but deciding to sleep on it and having a dream of his childhood in Puerto Rico involving swimming with dolphins and his mother smiling on the shore. His rediscovered faith and his mothers and aunts got him through.
Eighteen years is a long time, but at least Juan was exonerated in time. What if it was too late? Consider this – that he was the 99th death row prisoner exonerated since the death penalty was reinstated in the U.S. in 1976, and there are now 127. That alone should be reason enough to reconsider and abolish it once more (as most civilized countries, including Canada, Mexico and the entire European Union have). Truth is, it’s just revenge; but what if it turns out you took revenge on the wrong man (or woman, as has happened as well)?
For more information on the death penalty see:
Amnesty International: http://www.amnestyusa.org/abolish
National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty: http://www.ncadp.org/
Washington Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty: http://www.abolishdeathpenalty.org/