Former death row inmate lectures in favor of Prop. 34

Juan Melendez, 61, spoke at the Balboa Room Wednesday night about the time he spent in prison. Melendez spent 17 years on death row for a crime he didn’t commit. He dreams that the death penalty will be abolished, he said. Melendez was released from prison on January 3, 2002. He was the 99th death row inmate to be released. Photo credit: Aprile Sumague / Contributor
Juan Melendez, 61, (right) addresses Cal State Northridge students on the injustice of the death penalty. Melendez was released from prison in 2002 after spending over 17 years on death row for a crime he did not commit. Photo credit: Amber Canyon / Contributor

Exonerated death row inmate Juan Melendez spoke at the USU Wednesday, persuading students to vote yes on Proposition 34, California’s measure that would end the death penalty.

“You don’t have to go to college to know that the death sentence is racist, doesn’t curve crime and costs too much,” Melendez said.

Melendez was sentenced to death in 1984 and spent nearly 18 years of his life on death row for a murder he did not commit. When Melendez was put on trial, he did not speak much English and was not fully aware of what was going on.

“When they first showed the pictures (of the crime scene) in court and the jury looked at me with hate in their eyes, I got scared,” Melendez said.

It only took the judge and jury five days to convict and sentence Melendez to death.

While on death row, Melendez was constantly tormented by when he would be sent to the electric chair, which was the form of execution in Florida at the time. He considered committing suicide, but his faith and family kept him alive.

In 2001, a confession from the true murderer that had not been used in Melendez’s trial came to light and Melendez was set free shortly thereafter. The state of Florida gave him $100, a pair of pants and a shirt as reparations for the 17 years, eight months and one day he spent on death row.

“I’m very angry about it,” Melendez said. “But it motivates me to do what I’m doing. I’m trying my best to do something positive with it. All I have on my mind is to abolish this.”

Melendez advocates for people like Leo Jones, who was a fellow death row inmate and friend to Melendez that also had little evidence against him, Melendez said. Jones was put to death in 1998.

“I’m not saying, ‘let these people out,’” Melendez said. “Just don’t kill them.”

Laura Khrayan, a junior and psychology major, was especially touched by Melendez’s words as she has someone very close to her in jail right now.

“Can you imagine spending 17 years of your life in prison for something you didn’t do?” Khrayan asked. “But now he’s motivational and is making a difference.”

The CSUN Young Democrats hosted the event, in an attempt to inform students about Proposition 34, said club member Xochitl Medrano, a sophomore political science major.

Proposition 34 would replace the death penalty in California with a life sentence without parole for those convicted of crimes like murder. Melendez feels this would be a step towards correcting the justice system in America.

“You can release an innocent man from prison, but you can not release an innocent man from the grave,” Melendez said.

  • Your misusing Kant and quoting him without the context of his ideas. Because it has been proven that we execute so many people Kants ethics are more in support of prop 34. Kant felt that it is our duty to act in a way in which we would want everyone else to act toward all other people in similar circumstances. Would we want everyone to be executing people when it has been proven that they have been been executing innocent people.

  • Jon Soto

    Being soft on crime serves no one. The ACLU stands in the way of justice. Some criminals commit acts so heinous that there is no punishment as permanent as life termination. Anti Death Penalty activists more or less were never victims or family members of victims. What about the right of the victim to have justice done? The Death Penalty saves more innocents than it kills by preventing a repeat offender the oppertunity to escape and commit more evil acts. Prison cannot reform those who have little to nil humanity left in them. Criminals deserve the punishment they get.

  • dudleysharp

    Melendez said:

    “You can release an innocent man from prison, but you can not release an innocent man from the grave,”

    We can’t release dead folks from prison.

    It is more likely that an innocent will die in jail than it is that an innocent will be executed.

    5,000 inmates die, per year, while in US custody. Any of those that may be innocent cannot be frred.

    On average, we have executed 33 inmates per year since 1973.

    The evidence is that we may have allowed an innocent to be executed as recently as the 1930’s.

    At least 14,000 innocents have been murdered, by those murderers that we have allowed to murder, agin – recidivist murderers, just since 1973.

    We have also allowed from 40,000 – 200,000 innocents to be murdered by those criminals on parole or probation, while they were under government supervision, also since 1973.

    Fact checking

    Innocents More At Risk Without Death Penalty

  • dudleysharp

    The Death Penalty: Justice & Saving More Innocents

    Dudley Sharp

    The death penalty has a foundation in justice and it spares more
    innocent lives.

    Anti death penalty arguments are either false or the pro death penalty arguments are stronger.

    The majority populations of all countries may support the death penalty for some crimes (1).

    Why? Justice.


    1) Saint (& Pope) Pius V: “The just use of (executions), far from involving the crime of
    murder, is an act of paramount obedience to this (Fifth) Commandment which
    prohibits murder.” “The Roman Catechism of the Council of Trent” (1566).

    2) Pope Pius XII; “When it is a question of the execution of a
    man condemned to death it is then reserved to the public power to deprive the
    condemned of the benefit of life, in expiation of his fault, when already, by
    his fault, he has dispossessed himself of the right to live.” 9/14/52.

    3) John Murray: “Nothing shows the moral bankruptcy of a people
    or of a generation more than disregard for the sanctity of human

    “… it is this same atrophy of moral fiber that appears in the
    plea for the abolition of the death penalty.”

    “It is the sanctity of life that validates the death penalty for the crime of murder. It is the sense
    of this sanctity that constrains the demand for the infliction of this penalty.
    The deeper our regard for life the firmer will be our hold upon the penal
    sanction which the violation of that sanctity merit.” (Page 122 of Principles of

    4) Immanuel Kant: “If an offender has committed murder, he
    must die. In this case, no possible substitute can satisfy justice. For there is
    no parallel between death and even the most miserable life, so that there is no
    equality of crime and retribution unless the perpetrator is judicially put to

    “A society that is not willing to demand a life of somebody who
    has taken somebody else’s life is simply immoral.”

    5) Billy Graham: “God will not tolerate sin. He condemns it and demands payment for it. God could not
    remain a righteous God and compromise with sin. His holiness and His justice
    demand the death penalty.” ( “The Power of the Cross,” published in the Apr. 2007 issue of Decision magazine ).

    6) Theodore Roosevelt: “It was really heartrending to have to see the kinfolk and friends of murderers who were condemned to death, and among the very rare occasions when anything governmental
    or official caused me to lose sleep were times when I had to listen to some poor
    mother making a plea for a criminal so wicked, so utterly brutal and depraved,
    that it would have been a crime on my part to remit his punishment.”.

    7) Jean-Jacques Rousseau: “Again, every rogue who criminously attacks social rights
    becomes, by his wrong, a rebel and a traitor to his fatherland. By contravening
    its laws, he ceases to be one of its citizens: he even wages war against it. In
    such circumstances, the State and he cannot both be saved: one or the other must
    perish. In killing the criminal, we destroy not so much a citizen as an enemy.
    The trial and judgments are proofs that he has broken the Social Contract, and
    so is no longer a member of the State.” (The Social Contract).

    8) John Locke: “A criminal who, having renounced reason… hath, by the unjust violence
    and slaughter he hath committed upon one, declared war against all mankind, and
    therefore may be destroyed as a lion or tyger, one of those wild savage beasts
    with whom men can have no society nor security.” And upon this is grounded the
    great law of Nature, “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be
    shed.” Second Treatise of Civil Government.

    “Moral/ethical Death Penalty Support: Christian and secular Scholars”

    “The Death Penalty: Neither Hatred nor Revenge”

    “The Death Penalty: Not a Human Rights Violation”

    “Killing Equals Killing: The Amoral Confusion of Death Penalty Opponents”–very-distinct-moral-differences–new-mexico.aspx

    1) US Death Penalty Support at 80%; World Support Remains High

    Much more, upon request.

  • dudleysharp

    The false innocence claims by anti death penalty activists are both
    blatant and legendary

    The 130 (now 140) death row “innocents” scam

    “The Innocent Executed: Deception & Death Penalty Opponents”–death-penalty-opponents–draft.aspx



    Of all endeavors that put innocents at risk, is there one with a better
    record of sparing innocent lives than the US death penalty? Unlikely.

    1) The Death Penalty: Saving More Innocent Lives

    2) Innocents More At Risk Without Death Penalty

  • dudleysharp

    California: Life Without Parole More Costly than the Death Penalty? Might Be

    Dudley Sharp

    The Paula Mitchell/Judge Arthur L. Alarcón study

    Mitchell/Alarcón have made their study highly suspect by their refusal to share their database, which we can presume is unreliable, otherwise they would be happy to share it.

    Other reviews have found important problems with their study (1)

    BUT . . .

    If the Paula Mitchell/Judge Arthur L. Alarcón study is accurate (which no one can fact check) and the death penalty has cost California $4 billion since 1977 and there have been 2700 death penalty trials, that would mean, on average, the cases cost about $1.5 million/case, for pre trial, trial, appeals, incarceration and executions.

    Approximately 900 have been sent to death row and about 2/3 of all death penalty trials end with a sentence less than death, therefore 2700 death penalty trials.

    Credit death penalty

    If we calculated the cost savings by having the death penalty, of a plea bargain to LWOP, only possible with the death penalty, such would be the cost of trial and appeals of a LWOP case, deducted as a cost credit to the death penalty side of the ledger and would result in a lesser net cost per death penalty case. I am not sure what that figure would be.

    This would reduce the average cost of a death penalty case by an unknown amount.

    Increasing costs – death penalty

    The 2/3 of cases that do not receive the death penalty, in a death penalty trial, will still have appeals, but, most likely, not as extensive as cases receiving the death penalty. If these cases were given LWOP, then the appeals, incarceration and geriatric care costs will transferred to the LWOP side of the ledger.

    Necessarily, that would increase the average cost of the remaining 900 cases that were sentenced to death. I am not sure what that figure would be, as an added cost per death penalty case.

    This would increase the average cost of a death penalty case by an unknown amount.

    Including those two cost consideration, the average death penalty case might be around $2 million
    (adding $600,000 in additional appellate costs and subtracting $100,000 for the LWOP plea, adding, on average, $500,000/case for the 900 cases that received the death penalty.)

    LWOP costs

    It seems that the incarceration costs will be considerably higher than pro Prop 34 folks have told us, with costs spiraling, hugely, with geriatric care.

    It appears, likely, based upon my review (2), that death row prisoners who would become LWOP inmates, if Prop 34 passes, will cost around $75,000/yr/inmate (1), on average, or about $2,250,000 total/inmate, for 30 years, a figure which does not include the costs of pre trial, trial, appeals or geriatric care.

    Including those additional four cost considerations, the average LWOP case might be around $2.5 million

    As Prop 34 is stating that LWOP will replace the death penalty, there is no credit for plea bargains, because the Prop 34 folks are anticipating that those previously subject to the death penalty will receive LWOP.

    Obviously, anything short of LWOP will negate many of claims from the pro Prop 34 folks.

    It is very hard to see where any cost savings might be coming from if Ca ends the death penalty.

    1) The Errors of Alarcon & Mitchell, Part 2 — The Plea Bargain Effect (with Links to Part 1 and the Intro) 2.html

    2) Death Penalty Costs: California

  • The 300th person was recently exonerated by DNA evidence. He had falsely confessed to a crime he didn’t commit, because the police are so effective at getting people to confess! How many people have been imprisoned and condemned to death, based on similar mistaken evidence, in cases in which there is no DNA evidence to exonerate them?  In addition to this fundamental point, there is the obscene expense of the death penalty system.  Our state has spent an additional $4 BILLION on its death penalty system, over what life without parole would cost, since 1978.  This comes to more than $300 million per execution.  Can anyone really believe we could not have made better use of this money?  If we’d put one percent of that money into preventing child abuse, we would have prevented so many acts of violence and murder.  These are the reasons why people like the former warden at San Quentin and the former DA of LA County — not people considered bleeding heart liberals — support Proposition 34.