Exonerated death row inmate to speak Monday in Steamboat | SteamboatToday.com

Exonerated death row inmate to speak Monday in Steamboat

After 17 years, Juan Melendez found freedom

Zach Fridell

Juan Melendez

— After 17 years, eight months and one day, Juan Melendez was free.

He had served the time on Flor­­ida's death row for a crime he didn't commit, against a person he said he never met.

At the trial, the jury was selected Monday, and he was found guilty Thursday and sentenced to death Friday.

Now, Melendez travels across Europe and America telling his story of redemption, with a meaningful lesson and, surprisingly, humor.

His next stop will be at 7 p.m. Mon­­day at Steaming Bean Coffee Co., where the local chapter of Amnesty International invited Melendez to speak.

Colo­rado Mountain College's local Am­­nesty chapter also helped organize the visit.

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"Some of the experiences … are heart-wrenching, but also inspiring," said Judi Caruso, a member of Melendez's Voices United for Justice Project.

Melendez finally was freed when confessions by the real killer, including statements he made to 16 people about the murder, came to light.

"He comes at it primarily from the aspect of education, how easy it is for a person to be convicted and sentenced to death, especially a person from the wrong side of the tracks, a person who society doesn't care about anyway," Caruso said.

Local Amnesty leader Larry Haines said education is exactly what's important.

"I think something like this where you can get some people at the grass-roots level … something like this can really motivate people," he said. "Especially hearing it firsthand from someone who has been unfairly accused and convicted in just five days."

Caruso said Melendez likes speaking in Colorado because there was a movement last year to abolish the death penalty in the state, but it faltered by one vote.

Since 1997, only one person has been executed in Colorado.

Three people are on death row.

Haines said one of the reasons it's important to critically examine the death penalty is the inherent racial aspect.

He said that in order to serve on a jury that is considering a death sentence, the jurors have to be willing to consider using that punishment.

Because a smaller portion of minorities support the death penalty, juries tend to have more white members.

"We just don't have any way to consistently and fairly apply the death penalty," he said.

Because of the high stakes, he said it's not worth the risk of convicting innocent people.

"It's kind of a scary thing that we can make that irreversible mistake," Haines said.

If you go

What: Exonerated death row inmate Juan Melendez will share his story

When: 7 p.m. Monday

Where: Steaming Bean Coffee Co., 635 Lincoln Ave.

The event is free. Judi Caruso, who works with Melendez, said there are some adult themes and the talk is best suited for an audience middle school age or older.

More information about Melendez’s story is at http://www.voicesunited4justice.com/juan.htm

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