From death row to freedom, an exoneree tells his story at Fairfield University



Image: Juan Roberto Melendez ColonJuan Roberto Meléndez-Colón spent seventeen years, eight months and one day on Florida's death row for a crime he did not commit. His story highlights the many problems that plague the death penalty system, including the all too common story of how many innocent, poor Americans and minorities have been swept through the judicial system without fair trials.

On Wednesday, Dec. 1 at 8 p.m., Meléndez will speak at Fairfield University at an event entitled, "From Death Row to Freedom, an Exoneree Tells his Story." Free and open to the public, the talk will take place in the Oak Room, located in the Barone Campus Center.

Campus Ministry at Fairfield is the organizer of the event. By offering opportunities on campus for spiritual growth, a rich sacramental life, and service to God's people, Campus Ministry strives to be a sign of God's presence, according to staff members.

Coming from a religious tradition based on the life and teaching of Jesus, a man who was wrongfully sentenced to death, it's only natural that we are committed to promoting conversations around the effectiveness and ethics of the death penalty, said Kevin Donohue '07, campus minister and director of retreats. "Our society trumpets its commitment to 'justice for all,' yet cases like Juan Meléndez, our speaker, indicate that we still have a long way to go in this regard," Donohue said.

Meléndez was convicted of murder and sentenced to death within a week even though there was no physical evidence against him, according to the Witness to Innocence Project. He could not afford an attorney. Had it not been for the fortuitous discovery of a transcript of the taped confession of the real killer sixteen years after Meléndez was sentenced to death, he almost certainly would have been executed, organizers said.

Since his release from death row on January 3, 2002, Meléndez has shared his story of hope and survival with thousands of people all over the world and testified before legislative bodies as a member of the Witness to Innocence Project, the nation's only organization composed of, by and for exonerated death row survivors and their loved ones. The organization was instrumental in the abolition of the death penalty in New Mexico in 2009 and in New Jersey in 2007.

The event, co-sponsored by the Center for Catholic Studies, was organized with the help of the Connecticut Network to Abolish the Death Penalty.

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Media Contact: Meg McCaffrey, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2726, mmccaffrey@fairfield.edu

Posted on November 19, 2010

Vol. 43, No. 122