Death row inmate freed after years behind bars

Death row inmate freed after years behind bars

WASHINGTON - A man convicted of murder and awaiting execution was exonerated and walked free Wednesday after nine years behind bars in Texas, anti-death penalty groups said.

Manuel Velez was arrested in 2005 and convicted in 2008 of murdering his girlfriend's one-year-old son.

His latest attorneys, however, found that Velez, could not have been responsible for the injuries that killed the boy, since he was working a construction job in the state of Tennessee 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) away, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

Velez, a functionally illiterate Spanish speaker with an IQ of 65, signed a written confession in English he did not understand; his former lawyer also did not point out that his girlfriend had a history of child abuse.

"Manuel never belonged in prison, let alone on death row waiting to be executed. He is indisputably innocent," said Velez's attorney, Brian Stull of the ACLU's Capital Punishment Project.

"My joy for him and his family today is tinged with sadness for the years our criminal justice system stole from him, all because he was too poor to afford better counsel than the lawyer the state appointed to him." "We should be ashamed of the errors that put Manuel on the brink of execution. He is far from the only innocent person to receive a death sentence," said Stull.

"A recent study estimated that, conservatively, 1 in every 25 people sentenced to death in the United States is innocent. In such a broken system of justice, we are foolish and cruel to continue capital punishment."

According to Death Penalty Information Center's director Richard Dieter: "the release of former death row inmate Manuel Velez in Texas today underscores the many problems that continue to plague the death penalty and the ongoing risk of executing the innocent.

His "case contained a litany of injustices, including police misconduct, prosecutorial deception, ineffectiveness of defence counsel, and untruthful witnesses.

"The death of a child because of abuse is a terrible tragedy, but evidence uncovered after Mr. Velez's trial in 2008 indicates the abuse occurred when he was a thousand miles away." The DPIC has tallied 146 death row inmates whose convictions have been overturned and who have been freed since 1973 - including 10 in Texas.

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