Wrongly-convicted Death Row inmate returns to Bay Area to speak out against the Death Penalty

Juan Melendez spent over 17 years on Death Row

Tampa, Fla., -

A former Florida man is returning to the Tampa Bay Area to share his unique perspective of spending 17 years on Death Row for a crime he didn't commit, and living to tell about it. 

Juan Melendez spent 17 years, 8 months and 1 day on Florida’s death row, convicted for a murder at a beauty salon in Polk County.

The victim, Delbert Baker, was brutally killed in September of 1983 in Auberndale. With no leads, investigators offered a $5,000 reward for information that led to an arrest, and a man came forward claiming that Melendez had admitted to killing Baker. 

According to case details from the National Registry of Exonerations, Melendez was convicted based on misleading testimony, and Melendez, who spoke very little English at the time, struggled to defend himself. Despite a lack of physical evidence, Melendez was sentenced to death in just 5 days from the start of the trial.

“The judge complained the case took too long,” Melendez remembers, talking to ABC Action News on Wednesday on the campus of USF.

Melendez says his new attorney’s later found a taped confession from the really killer, and he was released from prison in 2002. He now travels the country sharing his story and talking about the dangers of the death penalty.

There have been 61 people exonerated in Florida since 1989, according to the National Registry of Exonerations. That’s over 585 total years lost by individuals for crimes they didn’t commit, while the real perpetrator went free. Over 30% of those cases were murder cases, meaning those innocent convicts may have been eligible for the death penalty.

Melendez is speaking tonight in Tampa at the University of South Florida’s Business Administration Building (BSN) at 5 p.m. to discuss his experience with the public, and he will be giving a talk titled “Presumed Guilty: Injustice, Survival and Hope on Death Row” at the University of Tampa on Thursday at 4 p.m. on the 9th floor of the Vaughn Center.

Both events are open to the public.

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