Juan Melendez Voices United for Justice Project

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Juan's Story

On January 3, 2002, Juan Roberto Melendez, an innocent man, was released from Florida’s death row after seventeen years, eight months and one day. Unfortunately, although his case is unique on its facts, the circumstance of being innocent and on death row is, shamefully, anything but unique. Upon his release, Juan became the ninety-ninth death row inmate in the country to be exonerated and released because of innocence since 1973 . The number currently stands at one hundred and nineteen. For more information about innocence and the death penalty, visit www.deathpenaltyinfo.org.

Juan’s story is one of supreme injustice and his legal case highlights all of the endemic and pervasive problems of the death penalty, including its high risk of being imposed on the innocent, its almost exclusive application to our most vulnerable and defenseless citizens—the poor—and its unfair and disproportionate application on the basis of race and ethnicity. However, his story is also a profoundly personal one: A story of survival where the human spirit triumphs over the oppressive forces of dehumanization, degradation and death. How did Juan endure torturous conditions of confinement for almost two decades? How did he maintain his humanity under such conditions? How did he maintain his sanity under such conditions? How did he learn to let go of his all-consuming anger and hatred? How did he resist the temptation to commit suicide, a desperate act to which so many of his friends on death row succumbed? How did a man change for the better after spending seventeen years, eight months and one day on death row for a crime he did not commit? It is a remarkable story of human resilience, courage, faith and hope. It is a multidimensional story that inspires at multi-dimensional levels. It is a story that “should be heard by everyone.” For more information about Juan’s case and speaking engagements click here.

Sharing his Story

At the time of his release from death row on January 3, 2002 , the State of Florida sent Juan into the free world with a pair of pants, a shirt and $100. That was it!! Nothing to compensate him for his wrongful death row incarceration for almost two decades; nothing for mental health care; and nothing to assist him in job training or learning basic living skills in a dramatically changed post-millenium world.

In spite of his torturous experience, receiving no financial assistance or compensation for his wrongful death sentence and never receiving an apology from those responsible, Juan, without bitterness, anger or hatred, has shared his story throughout the country (and beyond) with tens of thousands of people. He consistently inspires and delights audiences with his uniquely dynamic and captivating multi-dimensional presentation. His passion and brilliance rejuvenates, energizes and inspires death penalty opponents to activism. And he has literally and unequivocally opened and changed the hearts and minds of many who hear his powerful message. Indeed, his message is so powerful that it profoundly impacts people all across the political spectrum. This was perhaps most dramatically demonstrated when he received a standing ovation from a capacity audience at Brigham Young School of Law in September, 2004.

To date, he has shared his story on two continents and his story has been reported in English, French, Spanish, Italian and Arabic.

To read a few examples of feedback from folks who have heard Juan’s presentations click here.