Juan Meléndez, who spent nearly 18 years on death row for a crime he didn’t commit and who now works to end the death penalty, speaks here next Tuesday.
In 1984, Meléndez was accused of a brutal murder in Florida. He could not afford an attorney and within a week, according to a press release from Pennsylvanians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, he was convicted and sentenced to death on the testimony of two unreliable witnesses. Though physical evidence of his guilt was lacking, his conviction was upheld three times by the Florida Supreme Court.
According to the group Witness for Innocence , Meléndez was released only because of the chance discovery of a transcript of the taped confession of the real killer — a discovery made some 16 years after Meléndez was convicted.
Meléndez was released from prison in 2002. He has since told his story to audiences in North America and Europe. He has also testified before legislative bodies across the U.S., and was active in the successful fight to repeal the death penalty in his home state of New Mexico. He is the subject of the documentary film Juan Meléndez 6446.
According to PADP, Meléndez is the 99th of 140 death-row prisoners in the U.S. to be released on evidence of innocence.
His talk here is sponsored by PADP, Faith in Action Against the Death Penalty, the Pittsburgh Area Jewish Committee, Pittsburgh Amnesty International Group 39, and the Pittsburgh chapter of the ACLU.
"His story highlights the many problems plaguing our capital-punishment system, including the high risk and inevitability of the death penalty being imposed on the innocent," says PADP chair Martha Conley in a statement. "This has been further highlighted by the increasing number of accused being exonerated by DNA evidence. The death penalty is also unfair as it is most often applied to the poor and minorities."
As of October 2011, Florida had 402 inmates on death row second most in the nation after California, with 721. Pennsylvania ranked fourth, with 213.
According to the PADP, "the U.S. is the only industrialized Western democracy still utilizing capital punishment."
Meléndez speaks at 8 pm. Tue., March 27, at Bricolage Theater, 937 Liberty Ave., Downtown.
The event if free and open to the public. For more information, call 412-361-7872 or eamil email@example.com.