B’ham: Witness to Innocence Conference Tomorrow!

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                     

CONTACT:  Kurt Rosenberg

November 11, 2009                                                                                                           

215-609-9462 (cell)

215-387-1831 (office)

Death row survivors come from across U.S. to speak out

Exonerated from death row, they call for moratorium on Ala. death penalty

BIRMINGHAM – One of the largest gatherings ever of exonerated death row survivors from across the United States will take place here this week, starting with a November 13 news conference in downtown Birmingham.   Twenty-five men who were released from death rows across the United States, including three from Alabama, will join with legislators, attorneys and activists to demand a moratorium on executions in the state.

Traveling to Alabama from as far as California, Michigan, New Mexico and Pennsylvania, members of  Witness to Innocence who spent a combined total of almost 200 years on death row for crimes they did not commit will appear at 2 p.m. Friday at the Mel Bailey Criminal Justice Center, 801 Richard Arrington Jr. Blvd. North.

The news conference will kick off a three-day gathering sponsored by Witness to Innocence, a national organization composed of exonerated death row survivors and their loved ones.  Among the speakers at the news conference will be Alabama State Senator Hank Sanders, who has introduced moratorium legislation in the Senate for the past decade, and State Representative Merika Coleman, who has introduced similar bills in the House. 

Other speakers will include Gary Drinkard, who spent six years on Alabama’s death row before his exoneration in 2001; Ray Krone, the 100th person exonerated from death row in the United States (Arizona, 2002) and Freddie

Lee Pitts, who spent nearly 10 years on Florida’s death row for a crime he did not commit.

“If it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone,” said Drinkard  “Innocent people have been sentenced to death right here in Alabama, and that is simply unconscionable.  Something needs to be done about it before another innocent human being is sentenced to death – or executed.”

 Alabama has one of the most egregious records in the United States when it comes to capital punishment.  The state ranks seventh in executions (43) since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976 and is eighth in death-row exonerations (6).  The six executions it has carried out in 2009 leave Alabama second only to Texas (the two states have carried out more than half of the executions in the United States this year).  Alabama has the fifth largest death row in the nation, with 207 people awaiting execution. 

In 2007, more people were sentenced to death in Alabama than in Georgia, Tennessee, Virginia, Kentucky, Kansas and South Carolina combined.  Alabama has the highest death sentencing rate in the country, six times greater than the death sentencing rate in Texas.

“It’s clear that while most states are moving away from carrying out the death penalty, Alabama is out of step with the rest of the country,” said Kurt Rosenberg, executive director of Witness to Innocence.

“Alabama’s death penalty system is broken and measures need to be taken immediately to ensure that not one more person is executed until that system is thoroughly evaluated and fixed – if indeed it ever can be fixed.”

NOTE:  Members of Witness to Innocence are available for telephone or face-to-face interviews prior to or after the news conference.


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