Friday, 2 May 2008

Death row survivor speaks in Billings

Posted: May 1, 2008 04:33 PM

Updated: May 1, 2008 04:34 PM

A former death row inmate who was exonerated, and a woman who's daughter was murdered, were in Billings this week for the "Justice and the Death Penalty" tour hosted by the Montana Abolition Coalition.

Back in 1975, Ron Keine was traveling through Albuquerque, New Mexico. A week before he got to the state, a male college student was raped and murdered. Keine and three of his friends were convicted by false testimony and no physical evidence. They were sent to death row

"So finally this guy did confess to it. He later said four bikers in prison was no problem if they served the rest of their lives for that murder. But he said he got to thinking when I was 10 days from execution and he read that somewhere...and he said all of a sudden he found Jesus and walked into a church and confessed to the preacher."

The four were released from death row, but that was not the end of their trouble. Keine's best friend committed suicide. Keine could not get a job or a place to live because everyone knew him as "that guy who was involved in some murder out west".

Years later, while he was raising four girls, the past continued to haunt him.

"School kids can be cruel. Your daddy was a murderer, he was on death row. When you say that to a second or fourth grader, I've had a few times to go get a daughter who's crying...gotta go get her at school and explain it to her."

In 1998, Northwestern University's center for wrongful convictions got a group of 128 exonorees together and they decided to fight the death penalty. But, none of them looked forward to the idea of public speaking.

"It's not about me anymore it doesn't matter what I feel like, or what I think, or if I can handle this or not because it's not about me's about the guys who are left behind, it's about the guys who are on death row, it's about the innocent people that are gonna die that are innocent" explains Keine. "It's about the new people that are gonna be filling up the death rows."
Keine wants people to know that wrongful convictions can happen to anyone, and when the death penalty is involved there's no taking it back.

"You can find mistakes if somebody's sentenced to life. They can walk out of prison if they're found to be innocent. You can't walk out of the grave."

Since 1976 Montana has executed three people and there are currently two people awaiting execution in the state. Both cases are under appeal.

A poll conducted by MSU-Billings last November found that an overwhelming majority of Montanans, 81%, do not think lethal injection constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.

- Adrienne Kitchen reporting from KTVQ in Billings

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