With our presentation set to begin at 6:00 p.m. at the University of Tennessee Chattanooga on Monday evening, Ray Krone and I were watching the clock as people continued to stream into the lecture hall. In a room that seats 180, we were up to about 250 folks crowding into the room. Chairs were brought in and with people lining the walls, the presentation finally began. The following evening on the campus of Lee University in Cleveland, TN, sixty students, professors, and others packed another lecture hall to hear from Ray.
This is the kind of reception that Tennesseans are giving to death row exonerees who have been traveling the state with TADP this spring. Citizens are eager to understand how innocent people are sent to death row and are appalled when they learn of all the problems with the current system that lead to such wrongful convictions–problems that are not being addressed. In total, Tennessee has released three individuals from death row when the charges against them were dropped or they were found not guilty in a new trial. A fourth man, Ndume Olatushani, was released in June 2012 when he took an Alford plea. This plea meant that Ndume agreed that it was in his best interest to plead guilty to a lesser charge, but only if he could maintain his total innocence at the same time, as he had from the beginning of his ordeal. With the Alford plea, Ndume walked out the doors of the Shelby County jail that day after serving 28 years (20 on Tennessee’s death row) for a crime the overwhelming evidence shows he didn’t commit.
The more Tennesseans learn about just how broken our system is, the more concerned they are about the continued use of the death penalty. We have a few more engagements with these exonerees planned for this spring and are now scheduling more for the fall.
Just as in Maryland which recently repealed its death penalty, the voices of these exonerees are changing the conversation about the death penalty and will only continue to do so as more and more citizens hear their stories. Thanks to all who attended these events, and we will keep you posted on future opportunities to hear from these exonerees who are living testaments to why we must end the death penalty.
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