Former death row inmate speaks at Lawrence

Paul Jackson

Ron Keine, a former inmate of New Mexico’s death row, addressed the Lawrence community April 27 to discuss what he considered the atrocities of America’s capital punishment system.
Keine served 22 months on death row and was exonerated 10 days before his execution. He was brought to campus by Students for Leftist Action through the Witness to Innocence Program.
The Witness to Innocence Program was created by Chicago journalism students who examining the cases of death row inmates at a Chicago prison. As a result of their investigations, the students found several inmates to be indisputably innocent of their crimes.
The program attracts those who have been exonerated from death row and sends them across the country to share their stories and to spread awareness.
Senior Rachel Long, a four-year member of SLA, stated that Keine’s talk was a “unique and important opportunity” for Lawrence students and community members to “understand the flaws of the judicial system.”
Keine’s story detailed being arrested for robbing a gas station-which had been out of business for an extended period-to being charged for the murder of a college student in Albuquerque, a crime to which a narcotics officer would later admit. Keine said he was found guilty through prison snitches and false witnesses.
The murder charge led him to New Mexico’s death row, which was staffed with abusive guards, equipped with cells only six by nine feet, and devoid of contact with friends and family.
In addition to the account of life on death row were the stories Keine told chronicling what became of his friends, his fiance and his life after exoneration.
Keine had been convicted with three of his friends, one of whom, upon exoneration, went on to kill himself after feeling he had no career opportunities or familial support.
While on death row, Keine initiated a difficult breakup with his fiance who then went on to marry while Keine was still imprisoned.
His professional life, like that of his friend’s, stalled upon exoneration. He ended up salting driveways door to door, which, fortunately for Keine, led to the formation of his own successful business.
Keine’s illustrations of what becomes of a person after he is exonerated from death row were complemented by statistics concerning the judicial system in America.
Of 130 American prisoners exonerated from death row, 80 percent had been convicted by prosecution misconduct.
Of 220 sovereign nations, the United States is one of only 20 that still exercises capital punishment.
Only one in 10 prisoners on death row will be executed, and the price for those who are, after all the expenses that are accumulated in the appeals process, ranges from $3.2 to $5 million.
“I was surprised to learn that wrongful convictions occurred so frequently and how this so strongly affects the individuals and their families,” remarked freshman Kristin Boehm.
Chris Paustian, also a freshman, said, “It was sobering to hear that corrupt officials were so willing to throw away innocent human life.”
Indeed, the knowledge that such judicial abuses occur frequently is what most attendees seemed to take from this lecture. Many who had the opportunity to hear Keine agreed with Boehm when she said, “More of the exonerated individuals should speak out as to increase awareness.”
Students who would like to learn more about the debate over capital punishment are advised to contact members of Students for Leftist Action.