Sunday, 5 October 2008

Exonerated death row inmate to speak

A man who spent more than 17 years behind bars on Florida's death row for a crime he did not commit will be the featured speaker at two community forums next week.

By ANN WALLACE • The Leaf-Chronicle • October 3, 2008

Juan Melendez will speak at 2 and 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Gentry Auditorium at Austin Peay State University.

Melendez was exonerated and released in 2002.

"He is very passionate about that not happening to someone else," said the Rev. Jodi McCullah, director of the Wesley Foundation, the United Methodist Student Center adjacent to APSU. "We wanted to provide a thought-provoking educational program on campus, and this issue is something that I feel strongly about."

Melendez has a compelling story.

"He spent 17 years, eight months and one day on death row for a crime that he did not do," said McCullah, who advocates sentences of life without parole instead of capital punishment.

The number of people released from death row across the country after evidence of their innocence emerged now stands at 130, according to McCullah.

Stacy Rector, executive director of the educational advocacy organization Tennessee Coalition to Abolish State Killing, said 2007 data indicates Tennessee has 90 people on death row, including two women.

"Tennessee has the 10th largest death row population in the nation," Rector said.

The state Legislature is currently examining the fairness and accuracy of Tennessee's death penalty system.

The Tuesday forums are jointly sponsored by TCASK and the local Unitarian Universalists Fellowship.

Ann Wallace covers education and religion. She can be reached at 245-0287 or

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