Monday, October 09, 2006

13 Freed From Death Row Blast Wis. Death Penalty Referendum

13 Freed From Death Row Blast Wis. Death Penalty Referendum

POSTED: 6:06 pm CDT October 6, 2006

UPDATED: 8:49 pm CDT October 6, 2006

MADISON, Wis. -- Thirteen former death row inmates spoke Friday against a proposal to reinstate the death penalty.

A nonbinding question on the Nov. 7 ballot seeks support for ending the nation's longest standing ban on the death penalty.

The former inmates, their families and friends joined the Witness to Innocence project, an anti-death penalty group at Grace Episcopal Church in Madison.

Juan Melendez said some innocent people are sure to be executed if it is reinstated. He said he prayed for a miracle while he was on Florida's death row -- hoping to be cleared of a 1983 murder he didn't commit.

His conviction was overturned 17 years later when it was revealed that police had withheld another man's confession.

Wisconsin is one of only 12 states without the death penalty. Former Florida death row inmate Freddie Pitts called the death penalty nothing but legalized revenge.

"But the fact of the matter is it doesn't change anything. Wisconsin's got to be aware of one thing. You can release a person from prison when proven innocent. You can't release him from the grave," said Pitts, who spent nine years on Florida death row.

State lawmakers said they have built safeguards into the legislation. It calls for the death penalty only in cases of first-degree intentional homicide backed up by DNA evidence.

"For those states that have the death penalty, when's the last time you heard of a death penalty sentence being carried out lately? They're used very, very, very minimally and only in the most horrendous cases," said Sen. Alan Lasee, a Republican from DePere.

The group said that even though the referendum is nonbinding, it will open the door for broad death penalty legislation.

A WISC-TV poll showed support for the death penalty statewide, despite opposition in the Madison area.

Of the 600 likely voters surveyed, 54 percent said they favor bringing back the death penalty in Wisconsin, 39 percent oppose it and 7 percent are undecided.

The survey was conducted by Research 2000 and paid for by WISC-TV. It was conducted from Oct. 2 to Oct. 4.

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