Posted at: 03/15/2009 9:03 AM
Updated at: 03/15/2009 11:24 AM
By: Eyewitness News 4
Man crusades against death penalty
A man exonerated after 17 years on Florida's death row is sharing his story in hopes New Mexico repeals the death penalty.
Juan Melendez was sentenced to die after he was convicted of armed robbery and murder. His capital murder trial lasted just four days.
"Thursday they found me guilty, Friday the same week they sentence me to death and the judge complained it was taking too long," Melendez said.
At the time, Melendez did not speak English and did not have an interpreter to help him understand his own trial. But he knew he was in a bind when the prosecutors showed the jury pictures from the crime scene.
"They show the picture, they all look at me with hate in their eyes. So I know this Puerto Rican was in trouble then," he said.
Melendez spent the next 17 years in a six by nine cell infested with rats and roaches. He was finally released when an old confession from the real killer was discovered.
As New Mexico sits on the verge of abolishing the death penalty, Melendez hopes his story can convince Richardson to sign a bill that would exchange capital punishment for a sentence of life in prison.
"You always can release an innocent man from prison, but you can never you can never release an innocent man from the grave," he said.
Melendez, who now lives in New Mexico, said the people of the state have already spoken through their legislators who passed the bill. He hopes the governor will respect their voices.
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