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This film was made possible thanks to the generous support of Associate Producer Jonathan Wallach.
TIME ON DEATH ROW: 17 YEARS 8 MONTHS ONE DAY
FILM FOCUSES ON: SNITCH TESTIMONY
CONVICTED IN: BARTOW, FLORIDA
LEGAL REVIEW: Read a legal review of Juan’s case
YOUR QUESTIONS: Check out Juan’s answers to the questions you submitted.
JUAN’S STORY (thanks to Witness to Innocence)
Juan Roberto Meléndez-Colón spent seventeen years, eight months and one day on Florida’s death row for a crime he did not commit.
In September of 1983 Delbert Baker was murdered in a beauty parlor he owned in Polk County, Florida. He had been shot, had his throat slashed and was robbed of some jewelry. Early in the investigation, a witness told police he had seen two men with Baker shortly before he died, but because one of the men was a police informant, the lead was not seriously pursued.
A few months later a man named David Falcon came forward to tell police that Juan Melendez had killed Baker. At the time, there was a $5000 reward for information about the crime. Falcon was a convicted felon who knew Juan and did not like him. He had been heard telling people he would “get” Juan. Based on his statements, police arrested Juan in March 1984.
According to case details from The National Registry of Exonerations, “During pre-trial investigation, Melendez’s attorney interviewed a man in prison named Vernon James–one of the two men who a witness placed at the scene of the crime immediately prior to the murders. In the taped interview, James confessed that he had been present when Baker was murdered by two other men, and that Melendez was not there. However, this interview was never played at trial.”
At his trial Juan, who spoke very little English, could not afford an attorney and understood little of what was being said. Despite the lack of physical evidence tying him to the crime, he was convicted and sentenced to death within a week.
It was not until 16 years later that Juan’s new attorneys found a transcript of the taped confession from James. Juan was awarded a new trial based on the new evidence and prosecutors decided not to retry the case. He was released from prison on January 3, 2002. He received $100, a pair of pants, and a shirt as compensation.
Since his release from death row on January 3, 2002, Juan has shared his story of supreme injustice, survival and hope with tens of thousands of people in the United States, Canada and Europe. News reports (Spanish and English) and audience feedback consistently indicate that Juan is a charismatic and captivating speaker who opens hearts and minds about the death penalty and inspires activism.
Juan has testified before various legislative bodies in New Hampshire, New Jersey, Maryland, New York and New Mexico. He was intensively involved in the New Mexico repeal campaign where, over a six-year period, his story appeared in numerous media outlets and he spoke to thousands of people of faith and thousands more high-school, college and law students. He also had two face-to-face meetings with Governor Bill Richardson who cited wrongful death penalty convictions as his primary reason for repealing the death penalty in New Mexico. Juan currently lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and he is proud to call New Mexico his home.