Innocents Saved from Death Row Join Lawmakers to Promote Study into Reducing the Risk of Death Penalty Mistakes

June 12, 2002 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – Three innocent men, recently exonerated and released from death row, today joined with lawmakers here to promote an independent federal study into potentially widespread incidences of innocent men and women being put to death by a faulty capital punishment system in America.

“Were it not for the persistence of my family, I would never see the outside of a prison. I know first-hand that the system doesn’t work,” said Ray Krone, who became the 100th exoneree in March. “Congress needs to act now to prevent other innocent Americans from facing the injustice that I have witnessed.”

Floridian Juan Melendez who spent seventeen years on death row before finally being exonerated and Kurt Bloodsworth, a Maryland man who was sentenced to die based solely on circumstantial evidence, both joined Krone at the hearings.

The exonerees timed their trip to Washington to coincide and draw attention to a hearing in the Constitution Subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee examining ways to reduce the risk of innocent persons being executed in America. Sen. Russell Feingold (D-WI), who chairs the subcommittee, has introduced legislation that would impose a moratorium on the federal death penalty and empanel a national, independent commission to investigate flaws in the system that allow innocent persons to be sentenced to death.

Sen. Feingold’s bill, called the “National Death Penalty Moratorium Act of 2001” (S. 233) will be discussed at the hearing along with the recommendations of a Governor’s Commission in Illinois. The Illinois commission was formed by Republican Gov. George Ryan after 13 inmates were found to be innocent and released from death row in quick succession. Gov. Ryan also declared a moratorium on executions in his state. The commission recommended 85 sweeping changes to the state’s use of the death penalty, including reducing the number of capital crimes and beefing up competent counsel protections.

Democratic Gov. Parris Glendening of Maryland followed suit in May, declaring a moratorium and appointing a panel to study the fairness of his state’s death penalty. Supporters of the federal legislation, including the American Civil Liberties Union, also upped the intensity of their advocacy last month after Pennsylvania inmate Thomas Kimbell became the 101 person to be saved from death row since the death sentence was reintroduced in 1976. The ACLU sponsored the exoneree trip to Capitol Hill.

“The government is losing in the ultimate zero-sum game,” said Rachel King, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “In the life and death questions posed by the death penalty, the state does not get another chance to make right when they kill the wrong person. Legislation is needed to prevent further tragedy.”

The ACLU feature on the Exonerees can be found at:

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