Seventeen years, eight months and one day.
That’s how long Juan Meléndez-Colón spent on Florida’s death row for a crime he did not commit. He was fully exonerated and released from prison.
“There was no physical evidence against me when I was tried, … but in the span of just one week, I was sentenced to death,” he told The Enterprise.
Evidence that prosecutors allegedly withheld eventually absolved him of charges. He will come to Davis on Sunday to share his story, which he said is an opportunity to warn people about the cruel consequences of the death penalty.
The message is one of wrongful punishment and misallocation of funding that Meléndez claims is plaguing the death row system. Community members are invited to hear him speak at 4 p.m. Sunday in the Davis Community Church Fellowship Hall, 421 D St.
“Basically, it’s all about educating people,” Meléndez said. “People need to know that the death penalty costs too much money that can be used for better training and equipment for law enforcement, so we’re arresting the right people.”
Meléndez’s visit is well timed, with voters facing a Nov. 6 ballot measure that would abolish the death penalty in California. Proposition 34 would redirect the funding spent on executing convicted prisoners into investigation of unsolved crimes.
Donna Mason, a DCC member who is involved in organizing Sunday’s event, said Meléndez’s experience is indicative of a need for the change.
“It’s just the perfect storm of everything wrong with the death penalty,” Mason said. “He was poor, a minority, he didn’t speak English. … We really need to hear his story and think about it when voting on Prop. 34.”
Meléndez will continue to make appearances in the Central Valley next week. After retelling his account of life on death row at venues in Sacramento, he will return to speak at Davis High School at noon Wednesday.
Meléndez’s visit is supported by Witness to Innocence, an organization that opposes the death penalty. The group was involved in campaigns that abolished capital punishment in Illinois in 2011, New Mexico in 2009 and New Jersey in 2007.
The intention of the speaking tour, Meléndez said, is to make this moment in history the one in which “people make this inevitable change.”
“No matter where this policy is in place, there always will be a risk of executing an innocent person,” Meléndez said. “The thing is, we can always release an innocent person, but we can never bring an innocent man back from the grave.”
— Reach Brett Johnson at [email protected] or 530-747-8052.