Exonerated death row inmate to speak Monday in Steamboat

After 17 years, Juan Melendez found freedom



Courtesy photo

Juan Melendez

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

— 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.

“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.


kathy foos 6 years, 6 months ago

Dont blame whites for everything,whites are in prison as much as any other race,on death row,and get wrongly convicted like anyone else. No one likes to see these things happen,but why come out as a bigot your self ?What am I supposed to do to make you feel better?Exterminate the white race,wrongly convict the white race.You are a man that is in this situation,whites didnt do it to you,no one is out to get your race,you can say it,but it doesnt make it true. Any way,thank goodness you are out and living your life now,Sorry you went through all of that,I dont think you will believe me because I am white,but sorry you went through it.I have been through some unfair things also as a white person,and its only people like you that remind me that there are those that "hate whites".


babette dickson 6 years, 6 months ago

Whites are not in prison as much as any other races. That's exactly where the problem stems from. Wrong convictions are hitting non whites at a higher rate. Only awareness campaign like this one will hopefully change the course of injustice.


hereandthere 6 years, 6 months ago

Sun, I did not see any statement attributed to Mr. Melendez blaming his wrongful conviction on "whites". I also did not find anywhere where he was asking you to make him feel better. Curious, also, as to what unfair things have happened to you due to being a "white person".


brian ferguson 6 years, 6 months ago

a great story, and great to know he was set free. but why include the supposed racial aspect...its classism that seperates us and is the cause of most injustice.


JayKinghorn 6 years, 6 months ago

Sun, your comment is embarrassing. You should remove it.


jerry carlton 6 years, 6 months ago

No one wants someone who is wrongfully convicted to be put to death. If you eliminate the death penalty, what do you do with someone doing life in prison who kills another inmate or corrections officer in prison? I guess I had a vested interest in this question since I worked as a corrections officer for 5 years in a county jail.


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