Derrick Jamison, an innocent man who spent 17 years on death row in Ohio will be one of the speakers at the Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break, which is March 15-19, 2010 in Austin, Texas. Derrick is attending as a member of Witness to Innocence. Derrick will join exonerees Shujaa Graham, Curtis McCarty, Ron Keine and Perry Cobb at alternative spring break to speak with participants about how innocent people can end up on death row. Altogether, the five exonerees attending the alternative spring break spent a total of almost 50 years on death row for crimes they did not commit.
The Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break March 15-19 in Austin is designed for high school and college students interested in human rights and the death penalty. All the events are also open to people of all ages who are interested in the issue. In addition to five death row exonerees, there will be many other interesting speakers, including the national director of Sister Helen Prejean’s Dead Man Walking School Theatre Project, Bill Pelke of Journey of Hope, Susannah Sheffer of Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights, Brian Evans from the Washington D.C. office of Amnesty International, and Elizabeth Gilbert, the friend of Todd Willingham who first brought his case to the attention of thefire expert who later sent a report to Rick Perry in support of a stay of execution.
Participants will gain valuable training and experience in grassroots organizing, lobbying, preparing a public rally and working with the media. During the week, students will immediately put what they learn into action during activities such as an Anti-Death Penalty Lobby Day with a rally at the Texas Capitol. There will be opportunities to write press releases, organize a press conference, speak in public, meet with legislators or their aides, and carry out a public rally at the capitol.
When James Suggs, an eyewitness to the robbery and murder of a Cincinnati bartender, was shown photo arrays of suspects by police, he identified two men—but neither of them was Derrick Jamison. There were also multiple contradictions between physical descriptions of the perpetrators given by witnesses and Derrick’s actual appearance. This information was withheld from Jamison’s trial, and as a result, an innocent man spent nearly 20 years on Ohio’s death row for a crime he did not commit.
In February 2005, Ohio Common Pleas Judge Richard Niehaus dismissed all charges against Derrick after his conviction was overturned three years earlier. Jamison was convicted and sentenced to death in 1985 based largely on the testimony of Charles Howell, a co-defendant whose own sentence was reduced in exchange for testimony against Derrick.
Statements were withheld that contradicted Howell’s testimony, undermined the prosecution’s explanation for the death, and ultimately would have incriminated other suspects for the murder. Two federal courts ruled that the prosecution’s actions denied Derrick a fair trial.
Today, Derrick is fully aware of the inequality of the criminal justice system. “There is a double standard when it comes to justice in our judicial system, especially with wrongful conviction,” he says. “If you are a minority or a low-income citizen, the pursuit of justice can be an elusive one. But if you are rich it happens overnight.”
Although his resentment towards the system is subsiding, Derrick continues to express anger about how the 17 years he spent on death row impacted his life and the lives of his family members. At the time of sentencing, he was incredibly troubled because of his unjust imprisonment. “I was very angry, furious and distraught. . . all the emotions that stir up anguish. It made me feel it was over for me. Not only did that sentence affect me, it was the demise of my mother and father.”
Derrick currently lives in Cincinnati, where he expresses daily gratitude for his release. “In the 21 years I experienced ‘dead man walking’ I never had anything to smile about,” he says, “but on that day, I felt the smile come from within my heart. The sun shone down on me that day.”