Juan Melendez & The Case Against the Death Penalty

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/


One thought on “Juan Melendez & The Case Against the Death Penalty

  1. The Death Penalty: More Protection for Innocents
    Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters, contact info below

    Often, the death penalty dialogue gravitates to the subject of innocents at risk of execution. Seldom is a more common problem reviewed. That is, how innocents are more at risk without the death penalty.

    To state the blatantly clear, living murderers, in prison, after release or escape, are much more likely to harm and murder, again, than are executed murderers.

    Although an obvious truism, it is surprising how often folks overlook the enhanced incapacitation benefits of the death penalty over incarceration.

    No knowledgeable and honest party questions that the death penalty has the most extensive due process protections in US criminal law.

    Therefore, actual innocents are more likely to be sentenced to life imprisonment and more likely to die in prison serving under that sentence, that it is that an actual innocent will be executed.

    That is. logically, conclusive.

    16 recent studies, inclusive of their defenses, find for death penalty deterrence.

    A surprise? No.

    Life is preferred over death. Death is feared more than life.

    Some believe that all studies with contrary findings negate those 16 studies. They don’t. Studies which don’t find for deterrence don’t say no one is deterred, but that they couldn’t measure those deterred.

    What prospect of a negative outcome doesn’t deter some? There isn’t one . . . although committed anti death penalty folk may say the death penalty is the only one.

    However, the premier anti death penalty scholar accepts it as a given that the death penalty is a deterrent, but does not believe it to be a greater deterrent than a life sentence. Yet, the evidence is compelling and un refuted that death is feared more than life.

    Some death penalty opponents argue against death penalty deterrence, stating that it’s a harsher penalty to be locked up without any possibility of getting out.

    Reality paints a very different picture.

    What percentage of capital murderers seek a plea bargain to a death sentence? Zero or close to it. They prefer long term imprisonment.

    What percentage of convicted capital murderers argue for execution in the penalty phase of their capital trial? Zero or close to it. They prefer long term imprisonment.

    What percentage of death row inmates waive their appeals and speed up the execution process? Nearly zero. They prefer long term imprisonment.

    This is not, even remotely, in dispute.

    Life is preferred over death. Death is feared more than life.

    Furthermore, history tells us that lifers have many ways to get out: Pardon, commutation, escape, clerical error, change in the law, etc.

    In choosing to end the death penalty, or in choosing not implement it, some have chosen to spare murderers at the cost of sacrificing more innocent lives.

    Furthermore, possibly we have sentenced 25 actually innocent people to death since 1973, or 0.3% of those so sentenced. Those have all been released upon post conviction review. The anti death penalty claims, that the numbers are significantly higher, are a fraud, easily discoverable by fact checking.

    6 inmates have been released from death row because of DNA evidence. An additional 9 were released from prison, because of DNA exclusion, who had previously been sentenced to death.

    The innocents deception of death penalty opponents has been getting exposure for many years. Even the behemoth of anti death penalty newspapers, The New York Times, has recognized that deception.

    To be sure, 30 or 40 categorically innocent people have been released from death row . . . (1) This when death penalty opponents were claiming the release of 119 “innocents” from death row. Death penalty opponents never required actual innocence in order for cases to be added to their “exonerated” or “innocents” list. They simply invented their own definitions for exonerated and innocent and deceptively shoe horned large numbers of inmates into those definitions – something easily discovered with fact checking.

    There is no proof of an innocent executed in the US, at least since 1900.

    If we accept that the best predictor of future performance is past performance, we can reasonable conclude that the DNA cases will be excluded prior to trial, and that for the next 8000 death sentences, that we will experience a 99.8% accuracy rate in actual guilt convictions. This improved accuracy rate does not include the many additional safeguards that have been added to the system, over and above DNA testing.

    Of all the government programs in the world, that put innocents at risk, is there one with a safer record and with greater protections than the US death penalty?


    Full report -All Innocence Issues: The Death Penalty, upon request.

    Full report – The Death Penalty as a Deterrent, upon request

    (1) The Death of Innocents: A Reasonable Doubt,
    New York Times Book Review, p 29, 1/23/05, Adam Liptak,
    national legal correspondent for The NY Times

    copyright 2007-2008, Dudley Sharp
    Permission for distribution of this document, in whole or in part, is approved with proper attribution.

    Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters
    e-mail sharpjfa@aol.com 713-622-5491,
    Houston, Texas

    Mr. Sharp has appeared on ABC, BBC, CBS, CNN, C-SPAN, FOX, NBC, NPR, PBS, VOA and many other TV and radio networks, on such programs as Nightline, The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, The O’Reilly Factor, etc., has been quoted in newspapers throughout the world and is a published author.

    A former opponent of capital punishment, he has written and granted interviews about, testified on and debated the subject of the death penalty, extensively and internationally.

    Pro death penalty sites




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