Witness to Innocence
Witness to Innocence, or WTI, is a non-profit organization based out of Philadelphia, PA dedicated to the effort of abolishing the American death penalty. WTI began as a project of The Moratorium Campaign, led by Jené O'Keefe. Kurt Rosenberg took over in 2005 with sponsorship from Sister Helen Prejean, Witness to Innocence is the only nationwide organization composed of exonerated former death row prisoners; men who were sentenced to death only to later have their innocence revealed. WTI supports these exonerated death row survivors through semi-annual retreats and by running a speakers' bureau.
Witness to Innocence works to end the death penalty by bringing to light the crisis of wrongful convictions in death sentencing in the United States. In addition, it seeks to provide organizational and peer-to-peer support to exonerated former death row prisoners and their loved ones. The organization, which is composed of, by and for exonerated former death row prisoners and their loved ones, works with national, state and local anti-death penalty groups to educate citizens and spur political action against the death penalty through the personal stories of those who have survived death row. Witness to Innocence’s priorities are to help end the death penalty by coordinating educational and political activities featuring those who have been most directly impacted by capital punishment and to assist these individuals and their loved ones in their transition to life after exoneration.
WTI began as a project of The Moratorium Campaign founded by Sister Helen Prejean and led by Jene' O'Keefe. In 2005, WTI became its own organization and was founded as the only national organization led by and composed of exonerated ex-death row prisoners and their loved ones. It held its first national gathering in Atlanta, Georgia for training, outreach, organizing, leadership, and speaking (TOOLS). The organization has since hosted similar gatherings in Wisconsin, North Carolina, Texas, Pennsylvania, and Alabama. The gatherings consist of organizational development, training workshops, educational activities, peer support sessions, and public anti-death penalty actions. Witness to Innocence also launched its Speakers’ Bureau in 2005, providing a platform of empowerment for its membership of exonerated death row survivors to share their stories with audiences around the country. Since its foundation, the WTI speakers’ bureau has reached over 25,000 people at nearly 500 events in 37 states.
Witness to Innocence has also played a collaborative role in the abolition of the New Jersey death penalty in 2007, the successful campaign against reinstating the death penalty in Wisconsin, and – most recently – the repeal of New Mexico’s death penalty in 2009.
Witness to Innocence utilizes the innocence list compiled by the Death Penalty Information Center, or DPIC, of people exonerated from death row. The criteria for inclusion on the DPIC innocence list states that, “Defendants must have been convicted, sentenced to death and subsequently either a) their conviction was overturned ‘’AND’’ i) they were acquitted at re-trial or ii) all charges were dropped b) they were given an absolute pardon by the governor based on new evidence of innocence.”.
Proponents of the death penalty cast doubt on the validity of this list, partially because not all of the exonerated former prisoners were on death row at the time of exoneration. All of the 138 people currently on the DPIC list were at some time sentenced to death and were exonerated by the aforementioned legal standards.
News, Books, and Media
Witness to Innocence and its members have been featured in numerable publications and news articles, including Parade magazine, the Washington Examiner, the Daily Pennsylvanian, the Tucson Weekly, the Nashua Telegraph, the Salem Statesman Journal, the Austin American-Statesman, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, and the North Carolina Star-News.
WTI member and the 100th former death row prisoner to be exonerated, Ray Krone, was also featured on Good Morning America and an episode of Extreme makeover in its third season. The play and made-for cable television film, The Exonerated, features Witness to Innocence members Delbert Tibbs (played by Delroy Lindo) and David Keaton (played by Danny Glover) as two of its characters. Other projects that feature innocent former death row prisoners include John Grisham’s first nonfiction work, The Innocent Man, Frank Baumgartner’s The Decline of the Death Penalty and the Discovery of Innocence, and Stanley Cohen (sociologist)’s The Wrong Men: America’s epidemic of wrongful death row convictions.
- "Innocence: List of Those Freed From Death Row | Death Penalty Information Center". Deathpenaltyinfo.org. Retrieved 2010-04-30.
- "Innocence and the Death Penalty | Death Penalty Information Center". Deathpenaltyinfo.org. Retrieved 2010-04-30.
- Jack Newfield, “It could happen to any of us.” Parade Magazine February 23, 2003
- "Exonerated death row inmates seek innocence panel" Austin American Statesmen Nov 1, 2008
- “No remedy for wrongly executed” Fort Worth Star-Telegram Oct 29, 2008
- “Ex-inmates please for end to death penalty” North Carolina Star-News Nov 3 2007
- Official website
- http://www.myjournalcourier.com/news/death-20511-row-imprisoned.html *http://jackcentral.com/news/2008/10/exonerated-death-row-inmate-embodies-gaps-in-justice-system/