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Exonerees and Faith Leaders Work to End State Death Penalty
By Sentinel News Service
Published October 20, 2016
Rev. James Lawson, Rev. Kelvin Sauls and Rev. William Smart unite with the faith community in support of Prop 62.

Rev. James Lawson, Rev. Kelvin Sauls and Rev. William Smart stand with members of the faith community in support of Prop 62.

Death row exonerees Nate Fields and Sabrina Butler joined a diverse group of faith leaders to talk about the importance of ending California’s death penalty during an interfaith breakfast hosted at Holman United Methodist Church on Oct. 10.

Fields and Butler were in California to support Prop 62, a statewide initiative on the ballot this November.

Most disturbing among all of the failed death penalty’s significant problems – billions in costs, arbitrary and racially biased application, ineffective crime deterrent, an empty promise to victims’ families – is the unavoidable risk that an innocent person may be executed.

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Prop 62 ends that risk by replacing the death penalty in California with life in prison without parole. It guarantees that the worst criminals will never be released and requires convicted murderers to work and pay restitution to their victims’ families. Prop 62 will save taxpayers $150 million a year according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office.

African Americans make up 36 percent of the population on California’s death row. Fields spent 20 years in an Illinois prison, including eleven years on death row, for a double homicide he did not commit. The judge who sentenced him was later indicted for taking bribes in murder cases, including Fields’ case and Fields was found innocent after a second trial.

“We’re here in California for a very important moment, for a life-or-death situation. You can get the death penalty based on the color of your skin. But most importantly, you can get the death penalty based on a mistake. The death penalty requires perfection, and that will never happen,” said Fields. “As we stand here today, we know there are innocent people on death row waiting to be executed. We know that 4 out of 20 murder convictions are overturned. I’m urging people to vote yes on Prop 62 because I don’t want anyone else to have to go through what me and my family went through.”

Butler was a Mississippi teenager wrongly convicted of murder and child abuse in the death of her nine-month-old son, Walter. She was exonerated of all wrongdoing after spending more than five years in prison, including 33 months on death row.

“My case was an overzealous prosecutor that wanted to make a name for himself. I had two attorneys. One was drunk to through the whole trial and the other did not do investigative work on my case,” said Ms. Butler. “The death penalty system is deeply flawed and it’s not right. So I’m going to tell my story wherever I can, and as long as I can, until I can’t do it anymore.”

“We all have a call on us now, to get the word out about Prop 62. The death penalty in the state of California is wrong and we need to end it, said Pastor William D. Smart. “Take the message to the people, and make sure they understand that now is the time.”

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Mr. Fields and Ms. Butler are part of Witness to Innocence, the nation’s only organization dedicated to empowering exonerated death row survivors to be the most powerful and effective voice in the struggle to end the death penalty in the United States.

Categories: Religion
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