Sentenced to death,
Death row exonerees featured in national geographic
In a groundbreaking article, National Geographic highlights the injustice of capital punishment through the stories of death row exonerees.
Perry Cobb pictured in the March issue of National Geographic (Photo by Martin Schoeller)
Witness to Innocence is honored to have our death row exonerees featured in the March issue of National Geographic.
The 27-page feature, “Imprisoned While Innocent,” includes
16 amazing photos of our members,
9 graphics revealing the statistics of the death penalty,
and what must be over 4,000 words telling our stories.
“185 of those sent to death row actually were innocent.
These are stories of justice gone wrong.”
Juan Melendez pictured in the March issue of National Geographic (Photo by Martin Schoeller)
Can you imagine how many people who have never given the death penalty a second thought are going to read this article or see these profound photos on Instagram? National Geographic has 153 million followers.
Our work is to move public opinion, to create the societal and legislative will to abolish the death penalty. We do this by sharing our personal experiences of death row with AS MANY PEOPLE AS WE CAN.
Moments like this one inspire us and let us hope and wonder what the ripple effect of this National Geographic feature will be.
Put simply, we hope it will save lives.
So, how did this whole thing happen? It started with an awesome photographer, Martin Schoeller, who was determined to tell our stories.
He came to Puerto Rico in 2019 for our annual member gathering, took his signature “close-up” portraits, and entered the world of Witness to Innocence, our community of death row exonerees and our fight to abolish the death penalty. He filmed “moving portraits” and did audio interviews which resulted in a multi-media exhibit in Germany and at the Fotografiska museum in NYC.
All the while, Martin was reaching out to National Geographic.
Then, one day, in the midst of 2020 stay at home orders, Martin told us that Editor in Chief Susan Goldberg had decided to do the story.
“These people were caught up in a Kafkaesque nightmare, often caused by police or prosecutorial misconduct, or witnesses who lied or were mistaken. Most of the wrongly convicted had poor legal representation; disproportionate numbers of them were people of color…They sat on death row, typically in solitary confinement, sometimes for decades. They missed their own parent’s funerals. Their children grew up without them.”
Shujaa Graham, right, with his son, Jabari, showing off a tattoo of his father (Photo by Martin Schoeller)
Albert Burrell came within 17 days of his scheduled execution in Louisiana (Photo by Martin Schoeller)
We thank Ms. Goldberg and National Geographic for shining light on the issue of the death penalty.
We thank National Geographic writer Phillip Morris for telling our stories and the story of our movement.
We thank Martin Schoeller for using his art, and his passion for justice, to open this powerful door.
And, as always, WE THANK THE DEATH ROW EXONEREES for carrying this witness.
Together we will see the death penalty abolished.
"Stories of Justice Gone Wrong"
A deep dive discussion
An exclusive look behind the scenes of the groundbreaking Nat Geo article, "Sentenced to death, but innocent: These are the stories of justice gone wrong." Our panelists include death row exoenerees, Kirk Bloodsworth, Kwame Ajamu, and Ray Krone; renowned death penalty abolitionist, Sr. Helen Prejean; and the contributors behind the story, photographer, Martin Schoeller and writer, Phillip Morris.