Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Things that amaze me

It's late so this will be a short one. But I have a few thoughts, as we have wrapped Day IX of the VHAC tour.

The energy of Walter Everett of MVFHR is incredible. Walt is a retired Methodist minister. Well, actually, he flunked retirement and has a church part-time in Sunbury. He was with us twice last week, driving from his home in Lewisburg to Harrisburg for three events and then home in the evening, a 70 mile trip one-way. Then the next morning he drove another 70 miles or so to State College, did two events, and drove home, leaving Penn State at 9pm.

This week he traveled with us from Scranton on Monday to Bethlehem on Tuesday. After we wrapped in Bethlehem, after three events there, he drove home at 9:30pm, a 2 1/2 hour trip. Today he joined us again in Reading, another 2.5 hour trip, for an evening event at Albright College- where we were joined tonight by Ray Krone- and drove home again.

In between, he tended to one church member who is going into a nursing home and another who is dying.

I've known Walt for three years or so, but this tour has shown me a part of him I was not aware of. His energy is through the roof. Here's a 70-something guy who is telling the story of the murder of his son. He's doing it two or three times a day and then driving home at night to be with his wife and tend to his congregation. And through it all, he's cracking jokes and never shows any sign of irritation. Although, he does keep teasing me about getting lost in Bethlehem. We've done 20 events, we got lost once, and that's the one my tour mates remember.

Rolling Stone called Walt "serene and heartful, without an ounce of bombast." That is certainly true.

The other thing that amazes me is the story of Juan Melendez, and more specifically, the circumstances that led to his exoneration.

A police informant who knew Juan claimed that Juan and another friend committed the murder. The police leaned on the other friend, threatening him with the death penalty, and the guy took a plea bargain and agreed to testify against Juan. The testimony of a police informant and a coerced co-defendant- two men whom Juan said "had criminal records from here to California"- and no physical evidence landed Juan on death row.

The wheels began to turn in his favor when his new attorney discovered a taped confession from the real killer, which had been in the possession of both the prosecutor and Juan's court-appointed attorney since before the original trial. In addition, the prosecutor had 16 documents that corroborated the confession. These documents were not turned over to the defense at the original trial.

What if that tape didn't exist? Juan was sentenced to death on the basis of two questionable witnesses and no physical evidence. If that tape did not exist, Jeb Bush probably would have had Juan executed.

Juan calls the tapes and the documents two of his "miracles." It shouldn't take a miracle to free an innocent man from death row or keep him off death row in the first place.

Andy in Harrisburg

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