“There are those of us who will not give up until the death penalty has ended, until this country is about saving lives and not killing people and throwing them away for making mistakes,” said Jason Baldwin to more than 100 people sitting on the rooftop of the Saranac Building on Saturday.
Baldwin, one of the West Memphis Three, was released from prison 11 months ago after being incarcerated 18 years for a crime he didn’t commit. He and two of his friends were sentenced as teenagers for killing three 8-year-old boys. Baldwin was sentenced to life imprisonment, Jessie Misskelley, Jr. was sentenced to life imprisonment plus two 20-year sentences and Damien Echols was sentenced to death.
New DNA evidence was presented in 2010 and the men signed Alford pleas and were released.
Baldwin said he saw what walking the halls of death row did to Echols and his family and is determined to help the Inland Northwest Death Penalty Abolition Group (INDPAG) fight to end capital punishment in Washington.
“Since I’ve been free I’ve met so many wonderful people who are compassionate about making things different so that what happened to me doesn’t happen to me again, and what happened to Damien doesn’t happen to someone else,” he said.
Baldwin resides in Seattle with aspirations to attend law school. His story can be seen in the HBO documentary “Paradise Lost.”
Victoria Thorpe, who helped co-organized the event for the Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane, has been advocating to abolish the death penalty since her sister was sentenced to death in 1995.
Thorpe, of Spokane, recently published “Cages,” which tells the story of her sister, Kerry Dalton, who was convicted of a torture-murder. Thorpe says her sister, like the West Memphis Three, was wrongfully convicted.
“The death penalty is an evil that devastates many lives by promoting revenge,” she said. “Now my sister is a member of the Dead Man Walking Society and one day I may have to watch the state kill her.”
The death penalty, she added, brings closure for no one.
Holly Ballard, Baldwin’s girlfriend, is optimistic that Washington will follow in Connecticut’s footsteps and put an end to the death penalty.
“The biggest thing is not giving up,” she said. “Things can change and will change and hanging onto that hope is really, really important.”
Buell Hollister attended the “Honor Life: Abolish the Death Penalty” event. He said his son was murdered in 1983. He and his family have always been against the death penalty.
“There’s no such thing as closure,” he said, adding that circle of killing has to stop.
He said people need to ask political candidates where they stand on this issue, and also urge church leaders to get involved.
“Start working within the church community. Put the minister on the spot, make him take a stand on the issue,” he said.
According to the Washington State Department of Corrections there are currently seven offenders on death row.
In January Washington lawmakers held a public hearing regarding its capital punishment policy. Not everyone wants to see it change.
“When somebody takes your life, to get rid of the possibility that they too could be executed for what they have done I think is simply wrong,” said Republican Sen. Mike Carrell of Lakewood, a member of the
Senate Judiciary Committee. “Who's speaking for the victims?”
But Hollister said he sees momentum and is hopeful things will soon change in Washington.
INDPAG meets at 5:30 p.m. on the first and third Wednesday each month in the Mezzanine conference room of the Community Building.
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