In a tragic loss for the abolitionist community, death penalty opponents
around the Commonwealth this week mourn the death of William Nieves. William,
who spent six years on Pennsylvania’s death row for a crime he did not commit,
died Saturday in Philadelphia. He was 39.
"William Nieves will not be forgotten," said Andy Hoover, executive
director of Pennsylvania Abolitionists United Against the Death Penalty. "We
admired him for his perseverance during his wrongful conviction and for his
strength of conviction upon his release. His case is an example of government
William was convicted and sentenced to death in 1994, despite a
complete lack of physical evidence to tie him to the crime and only one witness
who accused him. After researching the law during his imprisonment, he learned
that he had received poor advice from his attorney, who was paid a total of
$2,500 for the case.
The trial judge ordered a new trial, but the Philadelphia District
Attorney’s Office fought the order for three years, taking the case all the way
to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which ultimately ruled in William’s
While preparing for the second trial, William and his new lawyer learned
that key evidence had been withheld from the defense. Three eyewitnesses had
told Philadelphia police that the shooter was short and African-American.
William was Puerto Rican and of average height.
Several months after the murder, one of the witnesses was charged with an
unrelated crime, and her story suddenly changed to finger William. After the
jury heard this evidence, William won his acquittal on October 20, 2000. After
his release, he traveled the country and the world telling his story and
advocating against the death penalty.
"Some will say that William’s case shows that the system works," Hoover
said. "When a jury convicts and sentences to death an innocent man, the system
fails. When a man loses six years of his life for something he didn’t do,
the system fails. When a father loses his relationship with his daughter because
he’s been wrongly imprisoned, the system fails. "William’s case shows that
government officials cannot be trusted with such awesome power."
Tuesday, October 11, 2005
39-year-old William Nieves, a death row exonoree from Pennsylvania and a former NCADP board member, has died. Here's part of a statement from Pennsylvania Abolitionists United Against the Death Penalty: