Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Death...for Speaking Very Little English

Among those participating in the recent Fast and Vigil to Abolish the Death Penalty was Juan Melendez. Juan is a member of the board of directors of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty and was the 99th person freed from death row due to actual innocence.

NCADP intern and Howard University journalism student Maxine Moffett brings us this account:

Within the confines of a small, cold, and gray concrete square sat an innocent but incarcerated man who did not merely wear black and white prison stripes, but who instead depended on the stripes of justice within America, while he simultaneously looked to the stars for God’s grace, and mercy. “I prayed for 3 things, that my innocence would be found, that hate would be released form my heart, and that I would one day be free,” recalls Juan Melendez.

For 17 years, 8 months, and for 1 day this was Juan Melendez’s unfathomable reality. “My jury was selected on a Monday and Tuesday, on Wednesday the evidence was heard, Thursday I was found guilty of killing a white business owner, and on Friday I received the death penalty.”

Closing his eyes, and quenching his fist, Melendez cried out that, “There wasn’t even any physical evidence. And one of the eyewitnesses was also tried as an accomplice to the crime, but with his 15 confessions, one of which was against me.”

Today, the fifty-something Melendez says that he has two birthdays, the day he was born and the day he was released from death row and was able step on grass, and see the sun. “When I first came to America, I really did believe that 'Justice' was for all, but now I know that minorities, and the poor are absent from the American equation.”

So now Melendez fights, he fights for life and the right to voluntarily breath under all circumstances. His message is strong, and he stands as a living testimony to the fallibility of the justice system. “I will continue to tell my testimony on every single mountain that I can find.”

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