Juan Melendez, an innocent man who spent more than 17 years on death row for a crime he did not commit, will be coming to Corpus Christi, Texas June 25-26 to attend the 2010 Texas Democratic Party State Convention and to speak at the meeting of “Democrats Against the Death Penalty” at 1 PM on Friday, June 25. The meeting will be in room 225 D-E of the American Bank Center. The party is expecting more than 5,000 delegates, alternates and guests to attend the state convention.

Juan is traveling to Texas with the assistance of Witness to Innocence, which 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.

Members of Texas Moratorium Network started the “Democrats Against the Death Penalty” caucus in 2004. In 2008, more than 300 people attended the caucus meeting at the state convention. In 2004, the Texas Democratic Party endorsed a moratorium on executions in the party platform. In 2008, the Resolutions Committee at the state convention approved a resolution in support of abolishing the death penalty in Texas, but the resolution was not voted on by the floor of the convention before adjournment.

Raised in Puerto Rico, Juan Melendez was working in Polk County as a fruit picker before he was sentenced to death in 1984 for the 1983 killing of an Auburndale beauty salon owner named Delbert Baker. A police informant implicated Melendez and another man. The second man cut a deal with prosecutors and testified against Melendez, but 12 years later, he recanted, saying he was coerced.
Juan Roberto Melendez-Colon spent seventeen years, eight months and one day on Florida ’s death row for a crime he did not commit. Upon his exoneration and release from death row on January 3, 2002, he became the 99th death row inmate in the country to be exonerated and released since 1973. There was no physical evidence ever linking Juan Melendez to the crime and his conviction and death sentence hinged on the testimony of two questionable witnesses. Despite his innocence, Juan Melendez’s conviction and death sentence were upheld on appeal three times by the Florida Supreme Court. In September of 2000, sixteen years after Juan Melendez was convicted and sentenced to death, a long-forgotten transcript of a taped confession by the real killer, was fortuitously discovered. Ultimately, it came to light that the real killer made statements to no less than sixteen individuals either directly confessing to the murder or stating that Juan Melendez was not involved. In a seventy-two page opinion in which she overturned Juan Melendez’s conviction and death sentence and ordered a new trial, Judge Barbara Fleischer went to tremendous lengths to underscore the injustices that had been bestowed upon Juan Melendez and to show that an innocent man was on death row. She chastised the prosecutor for withholding “crucial” evidence pertaining to the credibility of the State’s two critical witnesses and she set forth in meticulous detail the “newly discovered evidence,” including numerous confessions and incriminating statements made by the real killer to friends, law enforcement officers, investigators and attorneys that substantiated the defense theory that Juan Melendez was innocent. Without admitting any wrongdoing, the State of Florida declined to pursue a new trial against Juan Melendez because one of its key witnesses had recanted and the other had died.
Upon his release from death row, without bitterness, anger or hatred towards those responsible for wrongfully convicting and sentencing him to death, Juan Melendez has traveled throughout the United States speaking to audiences about his story of supreme injustice. When he is not speaking throughout the country or abroad, he works at home in Puerto Rico in a plantain field where he counsels troubled youth who work alongside him. As a former migrant farm worker, Juan Melendez’s idol and inspiration was and continues to be Cesar Chavez.
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