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Juan Melendez urges action in Colorado

Death row exoneree Juan Melendez recently visited Colorado to testify and speak out against the death penalty. Colorado is currently considering legislation that would abolish capital punishment.

Here is Juan's reflection:

I have spoken at many different venues in Colorado for more than a decade. I’ve spoken most often with young people at law schools, universities, community colleges and high-schools. I have always felt like the young people of Colorado have been receptive to my story and to the stories of other exonerees -- Colorado resident Jeremy Sheets, Randy Steidl, Shabaka WaQlimi, Derek Jamison and Shujaa Graham have also spoken in Colorado. The importance of this grassroots work by exonerees cannot be overstated, and it is in large part because of this outreach that Colorado is now poised to repeal the death penalty.

Most recently, I spoke at the University of Colorado Denver (UCD), and a few weeks before that I spoke at Denver University Law School. During my visit to UCD, I was invited to go to the Capitol and share my story. Over a two-day period, I was honored to share my story with some of the legislators sponsoring the bill to repeal the death penalty, as well as several other key legislators. I was especially honored to be invited to a brainstorming session on the repeal bill with key legislators and statewide and local stakeholders.

Just days before the repeal bill was to be heard in the Senate Judiciary Committee, I was invited back to Colorado to testify. On March 6, after a hearing of more than six hours, with the Committee room filled to capacity and witnesses fairly evenly split on both sides, the Committee voted 3-2 along party lines in favor of the repeal bill. All three Democrats, bill sponsors Angela Williams (Denver) and Julie Gonzales (Denver) and Committee Chair Pete Lee (Colorado Springs) voted for passage of the bill and the two Republican Senators voted against it.

In spite of the fairly even divide of testimony on both sides of the issue, the television coverage was blatantly one-sided against repeal. It highlighted the stories of murder victims families against the repeal bill and gave minimal coverage to the stories and testimony in favor of repeal, including those of murder victims families calling for repeal.

With such one-sided coverage, it is especially important for Coloradans to reach out to their legislators, letting them know they strongly support repeal and urging them to vote in favor of the bill. Thank you emails or calls to the three Senate Committee members who voted for repeal are important as well.

As promising as it looks for repeal in Colorado this year, it will not be easy. The toughest hurdle is likely to be the Senate Floor on Wednesday, March 13. There are strong voices against repeal, especially those of murder victims families that may cause some votes to peel away. In this environment, nothing can be taken for granted and every vote is critical. Each call or email in support of repeal can make all the difference.

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