The urgency around ending our state’s flawed death penalty system could not be greater.
Which is why last month FADP held Abolition Advocacy Action Days in the state capitol. New relationships with legislators and staff were formed, current relationships strengthened, new opportunities created, and follow-up meetings planned.
More than twenty sit-down meetings took place. Each of the 160 legislators, cabinet members, and/or their staff, received a Florida death penalty information packet. Our group included six FADP Board Members, two exonerated Florida Death Row survivors and members of Witness to Innocence, local TCADP members, a Death Row family member, and faith leaders.
But there was one meeting of extreme importance that I want to share with you.
Among our FADP Abolition Advocacy Action Days participants was Ron Wright, Jr., Florida’s 27th exonerated Death Row survivor, and member of Witness to Innocence. During one of our meetings he received a spontaneous surprise from Rep. Joe Geller, the Sponsor of House Bill 6013, that would end Florida’s use of the death penalty. It was the first and only gesture of acknowledgement that Ron has received from a state official for his eight years of imprisonment, including three years on Death Row, for a crime he did not commit.
Ron is a former Orange County Sheriff’s Deputy with an unblemished record and proud veteran of 22 years in the Air Force. Before his trial, based on assurances of his guilt from the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney to the Air Force, he was given a “Less Than Honorable” discharge and thereby lost his pension eligibility. Years after his conviction and sentence to death, the Florida Supreme Court unanimously overturned his conviction and ordered a directed verdict of acquittal. He was soon freed. However, the same state attorney blocked any compensation to Ron for his wrongful conviction and incarceration on Death Row. What took place in Rep. Joe Geller’s office greatly moved us all.
“Rep. Joe Geller, moved me when he took it upon himself to stand, shake my hand and hug me to apologize for what happened to me. To hear him say ‘I’m sorry for what our state did to you’ was not just an apology for me, but a heartfelt act and expression of genuine sincerity. I held back the tears but can’t overstate the gratitude I have for his words and embracing me. It was a pleasure to meet many of the legislature’s Senators and Representatives who were very kind and attentive to the issues I brought before them, but I wanted to express my gratitude and feelings for the many people who are so fortunate to have Rep. Geller as their Representative. Thank You.” – Ron Wright, Jr., 27th exonerated survivor of Florida’s Death Row