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Death is Not Justice: A Conversation at Missouri Western State University

From Sydnie Holzfaster, KQ2:


After being wrongfully accused of crimes that landed them on death row, former inmates Joseph Amrine and Reginald Griffin are touring at schools across the country to speak out about their experience with the criminal justice system.

Wednesday night the exonerees spoke at the Kemper Recital Hall at Missouri Western State University. The speech titled “Two Death Row Exonerees: Death is not Justice” gave the men a platform to share their personal testimony of being failed by the criminal justice system.

Amrine was convicted of murder of another inmate while in prison serving a lesser charge. He spent 17 years on death row before the Missouri Supreme Court ruled there was no credible evidence to uphold a conviction.

Looking back on his time on death row, Amrine said the social, racial and mental competency hurdles he saw inmates face when seeking justice in the 1980s are the same problems inmates face today.

“1986, to 2018 it’s still the same. I’ve been out 15 years and the same thing I’ve learned in 1986 1987 on death row is still here right now,” Amrine said.

Prior to his exoneration in 2003, Joseph Amrine served a 17-year sentence awaiting death in a Missouri prison.

“Our court system is not about justice it’s about revenge,” Amrine said. “I thought they were supposed to represent justice, but that’s not the case. They want to get a conviction.”

Amrine served a portion of his death row sentence alongside fellow exoneree Reginald Griffin. Griffin spent 23 years on death row before the Missouri Supreme Court overturned his death sentence because prosecutors had withheld critical evidence.

“In my heart, I believe that from day one, they knew I was innocent, but since they crossed that line, they’re not going to say ‘okay, we’re wrong’ – they are going to pursue it,” Griffin said.

Amrine said he feels a reevaluation of the court system is needed to avoid sentencing other innocent people to death.

“Common sense will tell you that we are human, so we aren’t perfect and we can always make mistakes so they need to acknowledge that,” Amrine said.

The men each took time identifying the struggles they faced while seeking out the truth.

“I reached out for so long and my cries for help fell on deaf ears for a very long time.When I finally did get some help, it didn’t happen overnight,” Griffin said.

Griffin said he wants to continue touring universities to help inform the next generation of workers in the criminal justice system of the deadly consequences of ethical courtroom error.

“It’s an unfortunate situation and it happens more than people believe. A lot of people don’t believe this really happens until it hits close to home,” Griffin said.

The two men have returned to their families and are now working to pass on a message that the death penalty creates a cycle of violence.

“Inmates are humans and the death penalty does not resolve anything.The death penalty just serves one purpose [creating] more victims,” Amrine said.

There have been 156 death row inmates exonerated in the United States since 1973. In Missouri, only four inmates have ever been exonerated from a death row sentence.

The talk was sponsored by the Peace and Conflict Studies program, the Missouri Western State University Foundation, the Legal Studies Association, Student Government Association, and Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.

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