Posts Tagged ‘Juan Melendez’

Award Recipients Announced: Holland & Knight and Martin J. McClain, Esq.

Alejandra de la Fuente — February 24, 2012 @ 5:31 PM — Comments (1)

At our first annual gala on April 27, 2012 we will be giving two very special awards to honor some of the people who inspire IPF with their commitment to justice and the innocence movement.

We are proud to announce that the Talbot “Sandy” D’Alemberte Commitment to Justice Award will go to Holland & Knight LLP. Holland and Knight has a long history of providing substantial assistance to the Innocence Project of Florida. Holland & Knight’s work on our behalf included taking on the bulk of the pro bono representation of our first 40 cases in 2003 to prevent those clients from being time barred by the DNA testing deadline then in effect. Holland & Knight was also the counsel of record in the Luis Diaz and Chad Heins cases, both of which led to exonerations. These are but a few examples of the continuing contributions to the cause of justice made by Holland & Knight over a span of decades, and we are thrilled to be able to honor them for those contributions.

The Frank Lee Smith Innocence Award will go to Martin J. “Marty” McClain. Marty is the post-conviction attorney who represented Frank Lee Smith, in whose name this award is given. Marty also represented Juan Melendez in his post-conviction case. Melendez is a non-DNA Florida exoneree who was on death row and now is an anti-death penalty advocate living in New Mexico. Marty has been tirelessly representing inmates on death row, innocent and guilty alike, since the 1980s. He was chief assistant and director of litigation at the Office of the Capital Collateral Representative and has continued his representations of those on death row in Florida and elsewhere since leaving that office. He is currently in private practice in Ft. Lauderdale. His sterling advocacy is a primary reason that Frank Lee Smith was proven innocent.

“Marty’s work as a post-conviction litigator representing death row inmates has earned him the deserved reputation as a top defender of those in peril of execution.  Among his many successes over the past two decades is the bittersweet posthumous exoneration of Frank Lee Smith. We are so pleased to honor Marty in this way,” said Michael Minerva, IFP’s CEO.

Congratulations to both of our awardees! We’re excited to see them at the gala in April, and will hopefully see you!

Get your tickets to step out with IPF and support justice.

Innocence Project of Florida, , , , , , ,

A Broken System

Alejandra de la Fuente — August 25, 2009 @ 1:41 PM — Comments (1)

New Documentary: A Broken System

A Broken System is a new, 45-minute documentary by filmmaker Kohl Harrington. The film consists of interviews with people whose lives have been deeply affected by the death penalty, including Juan Melendez, Aba Gayle, Bill Babbitt, Ron McAndrew, and Don Cabana.

Melendez speaks of how he was wrongfully accused and sentenced to death in Florida. His accuser, the real killer, framed him. Racist police and judges ignored important evidence that supported Melendez’s innocence and it wasn’t until the case was transferred to another County that Melendez had any prayer of release. He was released not long after.

Gayle tells us of the pain of losing her youngest daughter, Catherine, to murder. At first, she says, she was filled with hatred and rage, but then, through a spiritual awakening, began to forgive her daughter’s murderer, and then become his friend. She now works to abolish the death penalty. Condemned men, she emphasizes, are not monsters, but human beings just like the rest of us.

Babbitt talks of his heart-wrenching experience with the death penalty: Babbitt’s younger brother, a mentally ill Vietnam Veteran named Manny, murdered Leah Schendel, and Babbitt soon figured out that Manny was the perpetrator. In exchange for telling the authorities about Manny’s crime, Bill was told that Manny would not be executed and that he would receive help. However, their promise was false and Manny was sentenced to death and executed. Babbitt felt betrayed by the American justice system and since then has been working hard to educate people about the reality of the death penalty.

McAndrew, a former Florida prison warden, describes his experiences as both executioner and observer, and those experiences in the execution chamber literally haunt him. Of the condemned men, he says they will sometimes come to him in the middle of the night and just sit on the edge of his bed. ‘They never say anything,” he says, “but I know why they’re there.” Although he supported the death penalty whole-heartedly as an entering warden, his position began to shift as he witnessed the horrible ways in which the electric chair and lethal injection can kill someone. He relates the story of how, one night as he drove home from the prison, having just completed an execution, he saw a protester holding up a sign that said but one word: barbaric. Remembering how the previous night’s execution (that of Pedro Medina) had gone so badly, McAndrew rolled down his window and said, “Brother, you are absolutely right.”

Cabana, a former Mississippi warden, also speaks of the horrors of the death chambers. His stories and words are similar to McAndrew’s. Like McAndrew, he is not a soft guy, rather a tough one, but he is still deeply affected by the horrifying executions that he both helped with and administered. He also talks of feeling “unclean” after executions-that despite his best efforts to “scrub and scrub and scrub” the feeling off in the shower at three a.m., he never could quite get clean.

For more information about how obtain a copy of this film for screenings, contact

justice, ,

Pictures of Juan Melendez’s Visit to Tallahassee

Seth — August 17, 2009 @ 1:21 PM — Comments (0)

Here are some pictures of Juan Melendez, the 99th death-row exoneree in the United States, when he returned to Florida last week for a screening of his documentary, Juan Melendez-6446:

The first two photos are during Juan’s riveting presentation after the film and the third is me presenting Juan with some tokens of our appreciation for him coming all the way in from New Mexico, on short notice, to show us his movie and discuss how he feels about the death penalty.

Also, Florida Public Radio has a great piece on his visit that you can listen to here.  The segment is about 18 minutes into the show.

justice, , , , ,

Juan Melendez Event and Florida Public Radio

Seth — August 14, 2009 @ 5:22 PM — Comments (0)

Last night, IPF held a screening of Juan Melendez-6446 at the All Saints Theater run by the Tallahassee Film Society:

20090422_TFS_inside1 For such short notice, the event was well attended with over fifty people coming to watch this emotional documentary and hear Juan Melendez speak.

Juan’s story is a unique one because he would have likely died by lethal injection had it not been for a stroke of luck.  His investigator found a taped confession of the true killer.  Even then, the prosecution did not agree to let Juan go.  Only after some “gentle nudging” from the media, did the prosecution wise up and release this innocent man.  The film also documents the special relationship between Juan and his mother and their native Puerto Rico.

Juan is a talented speaker and an inspirational guy.  He has dedicated himself to teaching people of all ages about the problems with the death penalty.  He was instrumental in Governor Bill Richardson’s decision to abolish the death penalty in New Mexico, where Juan currently lives.  We hope that Juan will make some repeat trips to Florida to spread the same message of change.

Thank you to all who attended.  Juan will be featured tonight on Capital Report on Florida Public Radio at 6:30 PM and 9:00 PM and also on Monday during Morning Edition. You can listen live here.

We’ll post pictures of the event when they become available.

justice, , , , ,

© Copyright Innocence Project of Florida, Inc. This web site is supported in part by grants from The Florida Bar Foundation.