This week, the Criminal Justice Student Association at Wichita State University hosted Juan Melendez, a death row exoneree, for two speaking events on campus. At one event, more than 120 Kansans came to hear Melendez’s story of his wrongful conviction and his exoneration from Florida’s death row.
Juan Melendez, exonerated in 2002, told in great detail the story of how he came to spend 18 years on Florida’s death row and his quest to survive and prove his innocence. Barely able to understand English at the time of his arrest, Melendez unknowingly waived his rights and within a week of the start of the trial he was convicted and sentenced to death.
Melendez was completely innocent. But how does an innocent man get convicted of murder? Even though Melendez had a strong alibi, more than 16 pieces of evidence proving his innocence and indicating the true identity of the murderer were withheld by the prosecution for the duration of the trial. This sort of error can happen in any trial, even in Kansas. Three death sentences have been overturned by the Kansas Supreme Court because of similar errors made during the trials.
Melendez’s story left listeners with the unpleasant notion that the risk of executing an innocent person is always possible in a death penalty system.
Since his exoneration, Melendez has devoted his life to speaking out against the injustice of the death penalty. He travels the country sharing his story, hoping to inspire people to action so that we can know our government is not risking the lives of innocent individuals.
KCADP thanks Juan Melendez for visiting Kansas and WSU Criminal Justice Student Association for bringing him.
To read more about Juan Melendez’s story click here.