Juan Melendez shows his prison tattoo. // Catholic Sentinel photo by Ed Langlois
During his 18 years on Florida’s death row, the only thing that kept Juan Melendez from committing suicide was knowing that his mother was praying the rosary for him every day.
Melendez will tell his story of faith and survival on a tour of Oregon university campuses starting March 6. He will be joined by Greg Wilhoit, who served time on Oklahoma’s death row, and was also exonerated. Wilhoit is featured in the non-fiction book by John Grisham, The Innocent Man.
The tour is sponsored by Oregonians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty and Witness to Innocence, a national coalition of exonerated death row inmates who travel the country. They say there are mistakes and injustice when the death penalty is involved. Since 1976, when the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty, there have been 142 exonerations of innocent U.S. residents who were wrongfully convicted of aggravated murder.
The Oregon campus tour will begin at the Lewis and Clark Law School, 10015 SW Terwilliger Blvd, in Portland, at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, March 6. The tour continues the next day at Willamette University, in Salem, Oregon State University, in Corvallis and Western Oregon University, in Monmouth. Campus chapters of National Lawyers Guild, Amnesty International, Peace Studies and others will participate in the events and help to promote attendance. The general public is invited to attend any of the four events.