Saturday, 5 April 2008

Death penalty errors argued by panel at Tech

Saturday, April 05, 2008
Story last updated at 4/5/2008 - 2:18 am

Juan Melendez can still hear the hum of the electric chair as it burned the life out of his friends.

Melendez spent nearly 18 years on Florida's death row in a rat- and roach-infested, 6-by-9-foot cell for a crime he didn't commit.

"I consider myself the very luckiest man in the world," he said. "If I had been in Texas, I'd be dead."

He told his story on Friday as one of many speakers in the Texas Tech University School of Law symposium "Convicting the Innocent."

Since his exoneration in 2002, Melendez has traveled the world speaking out against the death penalty.

Capital punishment does not deter criminals and costs too much, Melendez, as well as many of the panelists, said.

Friday's criminal law symposium brought practitioners and professors of law and social science from around the country to discuss topics such as: Why do we convict as many innocent people as we do? and given that we sometimes convict innocent people, what, if anything, does that say about the death penalty?

The speakers presented heaps of statistics and studies supporting their call for change in the justice system.

Richard Roper, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Texas, said it was important to acknowledge real life concerns not done in the sterile confines of a law school courtroom.

He listed several people in his 25 years of experience as a prosecutor who committed heinous crimes and continued to kill in prison.

"I think the death penalty should still have a place in our society," he said.

Despite his disagreement on the future of capital punishment, Roper applauded the seminar and its speakers for asking the questions.

"It's really a good day for Texas Tech law school to have these people," said Arnold Loewy, the symposium organizer.

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