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July 8, 2009
By Jene O’Keefe Trigg, Managing Director
Today the number of death row inmates exonerated since 1973 reached 134 as the state of Illinois has released Ronald Kitchen.
I first learned of Kitchen in 1999, at the annual National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty’s conference. Kitchen was wrongfully convicted for the murder of two women and three children in 1988 on the basis of false confessions that were beaten out of him as a result of torture during the tenure of former police commander Jon Burge.
When I first heard about Kitchen’s case I was new to the death penalty advocacy community. I was still coming to terms with how I felt about the death penalty, and what I had assumed was a just system. I was quickly learning that what happened to Kitchen was not an isolated, horrific, experience.
In August of 1998 was the beginning of my journey – when I first had to ask myself if I believed in our system. I had begun assisting with publicity efforts surrounding the wrongful convictions of three men now known as the West Memphis Three (Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley). These men were wrongly convicted of the slayings of three young boys in 1993. I read everything I could get my hands on about their case and circus trials.
Today they still sit in prison (Echols remains on death row) even though DNA testing has not linked them to the murders, juror misconduct has come to light and witnesses have recanted their testimony.
Their cases, along with Kitchen’s and the 100s of others I have learned about over the last decade remind me of why I will continue to work to give a voice to these individuals who have none.
One hundred and thirty four. Think about that number. Nobody should be okay with this. Our system is beyond broken and it is time to fix it.