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Apr-13-2010 13:42printcomments

Exonerated Death Row Inmate to Speak at WOU

Witness to Innocence is the nation's only organization composed of, by and for exonerated death row survivors and their loved ones.

Juan Melendez-Colon
Juan Melendez-Colon

(MONMOUTH, Ore.) - Juan Melendez-Colon, who was exonerated and released from Florida's Death Row after serving more than 17 years for a crime he did not commit, will speak at Western Oregon University on Wednesday, April 14 from 1:00 to 2:00 p.m. in the Werner University Center Calapooia Room.

Melendez-Colon has spoken all over the United States and in many foreign counties on behalf of Witness to Innocence.

According to Wikipedia:

In his own defense, Mr. Melendez testified that he was with a woman named Dorothy Rivera on the evening of September 13, 1983 –an alibi which was bolstered by the testimony of four witnesses. There was also no physical evidence tying Mr. Melendez to the murder scene. However, the odds seemed stacked against Mr. Melendez.

Despite a lack of physical evidence, Melendez was convicted largely on testimony of David Luna Falcon, an informant with a criminal record and whose parents were said to have had a “falling out” with Melendez. Witnesses testified during Melendez’s trial that Falcon had a grudge against Melendez and had threatened to kill him, prior to reporting to the police that Melendez had confessed his involvements in Delbert Baker’s murder.

There was also some crucial testimony which was omitted at trial, such as:

* The accounts of a witness named Terry Barber; Barber had dropped by Delbert Baker’s workplace on the evening of the murder and had reported to police that he saw two males, a man named Vernon James and a man whom Barber knew simply as “Bobo”. He did not report ever seeing Melendez. Police apparently dropped that lead when both of the males in question denied that they were at Baker’s place of business on the night in question.

* A taped statement made by Vernon James indicating that he and his accomplice had killed Baker at his salon.

* A statement made by an inmate named Roger Mims, who claimed that Vernon James had admitted having a sexual relationship with Baker and that he had killed him along with 2 other men.

To compound Melendez’s woes, he was also unable to read or write English and was said to have a 9th grade education level.

Melendez's conviction and death sentence were upheld on appeal three times by the Florida Supreme Court. 16 years after his conviction, Melendez was nearing the end of his appeals when his current attorneys conducted a search through the files of Melendez’s original defense lawyer and discovered the taped confession made by Vernon James. [3] They were also able to locate other witnesses who recalled that Vernon James had confessed to the murder before he died.

In light of the new evidence, Justice Barbara Fleischer determined that Melendez was entitled to a new trial. In turn, the state of Florida declined to prosecute a second time since the key witness at the original trial, David Falcon, was now dead and another witness for the prosecution had since recanted his testimony.

Melendez spent a total of 17 years, eight months and one day of incarceration before finally being released from the Union Correctional Institution on January 3, 2002. Upon release he received $100 compensation from the state. He has not received any further compensation, nor an official apology from the state of Florida.

Witness to Innocence is the nation's only organization composed of, by and for exonerated death row survivors and their loved ones.

These individuals are actively engaged in the struggle to end the death penalty, challenging the American public to grapple with the problem of a fatally flawed criminal justice system that sends innocent people to death row. For more, visit witnesstoinnocence.org

Juan Melendez-Colon's visit to Oregon is also supported by Oregonians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (www.oadp.org) . For more information about the event, contact Dr. Emily Plec, at plece@wou.edu or (503) 838-8819. For disability accommodation, please call (503) 838-8250.

The Communication Studies Department and Communication Club are sponsoring the event.

Learn more: Juan Roberto Melendez-Colon - From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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