On Wednesday, April 3, several Marist School theology classes had the opportunity to hear from Juan Melendez, the 99th person exonerated from death row in the United States since 1976.
Melendez was convicted and sentenced to death in Florida in 1984 at the age of 33 with no physical evidence linking him to the crime and testimony from questionable witnesses. Later investigations revealed that prosecutors hid evidence and lied to the court in order to protect the real killer, a police informant. Melendez was exonerated in 2002 after 18 years on death row.
Melendez shared his experiences of being on death row and his subsequent release, and how his relationship with God enabled him to cope during that time. He also highlighted flaws within the U.S. justice system that led to his sentencing and encouraged students to promote alternatives to the death penalty. Melendez's testimony reminded students of the sanctity of human life and the Catholic Church's call to abolish the death penalty around the world.
“Mr. Melendez’s powerful testimony made this experience real and concrete for students, as they heard firsthand about the way the death penalty violates human dignity,” said Mrs. Jenni Justus, a teacher in Marist’s theology department. “He also challenged and encouraged them to work for justice as society’s future leaders.”
Juan Melendez is a member of Witness to Innocence (WTI),the only national organization in the United States composed of and led by exonerated death row survivors and their family members. The mission of WTI is to abolish the death penalty by empowering exonerated death row survivors to become effective leaders in the abolition movement. For more information, visit witnesstoinnocence.org.
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