Two death row exonerees: Death is not justice
Two men approached the podium in the Cathedral of Saint Joseph Saturday afternoon. Both men shared their stories of how they had to fight to have another chance at life.
"They bring a message of hope to us that there is a life after death row," Rita Linhardt of the Missouri Catholic Conference said.
Joseph Armine and Reggie Griffin were on death row, guilty until proven innocent. With Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, they spoke of the decades they lost waiting for a fate they knew they didn't deserve. They also shared the struggles they face after being exonerated, still trying to ease back into civilian life.
"They're very happy to be off death row and even though it's challenging for them they still find a reason to be hopeful every day of their life," Linhardt said.
MADP used their cases to demonstrate how Missouri's broken death penalty is framed on prosecutorial misconduct, deficiency in defense and counsel and racial disparities in representation and sentencing.
The event served to explore Missouri's justice system and to shed light on the disparities that could cost someone their life.
"You don't just stop there because you got your freedom," Griffin said about speaking out. "Because there's a lot of innocent people in jail."
Read Armine and Griffin's stories below.
Joseph Amrine was released from jail in June 2003, after the Missouri Supreme Court overturned his conviction and death sentence.
Amrine was sentenced to death in 1986 and spent 17 years on death row. He was 46 when he left prison.
Amrine was originally sentenced for the murder of a fellow prison inmate, convicted on the testimonies of fellow inmates. He maintained his innocence and investigators were never able to provide any physical evidence linking Amrine to the crime. Three of the inmates later recanted their statements, admitting they lied for protection. Six other prisoners testified Armine had been playing cards during the murder, providing Armine's alibi.
The Missouri Supreme Court originally ordered Armine's release in April 2003 on the basis of no credible evidence to keep him behind bars or on death row. Armine's release was later postponed when the prosecutor in the case filed amended murder charges, requesting DNA tests on blood stains on Armine's pants the day of the murder. The tests were inconclusive, and in July 2003 the prosecutor announced he would not seek a new trial.
Armine had been on death row for so long, he had selected music for a funeral service scheduled to follow his lethal injection.
Reggie Griffin spent 23 years on death row.
Griffin was originally in prison on an assault charge. He grew up on the streets of St. Louis and at a young age got into a fight that got him behind bars.
While serving his sentence at Moberly Correctional Center, Griffin heard about three guys stabbing an inmate to death--he was later charged with the crime.
He was stunned.
Griffin was convicted on the word of two jailhouse informants, both who received reduced sentences in exchange for their testimony.
After a jury deliberated for 45 minutes they then sentenced him to death in 1988.
In 2011, the Missouri Supreme Court overturned his death sentence after finding that prosecutors withheld evidence. The Supreme Court learned Moberly guards had confiscated a sharpened screwdriver from another inmate immediately after the stabbing.
Griffin was released in 2013 as the fourth person exonerated from death row in Missouri.
According to MAPD, 158 men have been exonerated in the United States as of 2017.