Saturday, January 16, 2010

A Man Speaks After Death Row

“We were taught at a young age that life is sacred. I am not against capital punishment, I’m not for capital punishment. I’m against killing.” --Shabaka Sundiata Waqlimi, an innocent man who was on Florida’s death row for 14 years.

Shabaka Sundiata Waqlimi was born and incarcerated under the name Joseph Green Brown. He now wants to be called Shabaka.

He was convicted and sentenced to death for the rape, murder and robbery of a white woman in Florida in 1973, even though he had nothing to do with the crime. Shabaka says local authorities needed to arrest someone for the murder and since he was a young black male who owned a gun, he was a perfect choice.

The case turned on a man who resented Shabaka for turning him in for a robbery. This man later admitted his lie.

Shabaka went to trial with a young court-appointed attorney who lacked experience handling such cases. Twelve jurors, all of them white, deliberated less than five hours after a week-long trial before issuing a guilty verdict. Several days later, Shabaka was given the death sentence.

Today, he is a free man. In this video, Shabaka shares the ordeal of being a death row survivor.

In jail, guards came to measure him for his burial suit. But he never quit fighting his guilty verdict and eventually the charges against him were dropped, when a court of appeals ruled the prosecution had purposefully allowed false testimony at trial.

When he was released, Shabaka was not given a cent of compensation or even an apology by the state authorities. On the outside, he was unable to open doors for himself at first, and did not want to use seatbelts, since they reminded him of the electric chair. Even though he had never committed a crime, he found it difficult to land a job, so he started helping others at community centers.

Since 1973, the Death Penalty Information Center says 138 other death row inmates have been exonerated. There are 138 other stories like Shabaka's.