CWU News

Surviving Death Row: Exonerees Tell Their Story

Death penalty exoneree Sabrina Butler-SmithWhat is life on death row really like? Death penalty exonerees Sabrina Butler-Smith (left) and Randal Padgett will share their personal experiences during a CWU presentation. It's scheduled for Tuesday, October 3, at 4:00 p.m. in the Student Union and Recreation Center Theatre.

The presentation will be followed by a question-and-answer session, which will include Stefanie Anderson, Witness to Innocence (WTI) director of Communications and Washington Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty Board (WCADP) chair.

The Q&A will be moderated by Matthew Altman, chair of CWU’s Philosophy and Religious Studies Department, which organized the event, co-hosted by WCADP, as part of a greater effort to instill philosophic dialogue on the Ellensburg campus.

“The United States, as a whole, and Washington State, in particular, are deeply divided over the constitutionality, the usefulness, and the moral rightness of the death penalty," said Altman. "Exonerated death row inmates have a unique perspective on this issue, and they have a lot to contribute to the ongoing debate.”

This panel is also coming to CWU at a crucial time for death penalty law.

“This upcoming legislative session Washington State will once again [consider] a bill to abolish the death penalty,” Anderson stated.

The proposed legislation was introduced last year by Washington's Attorney General Bob Ferguson. It is supported by former state Attorney General Rob McKenna. In 2014, Governor Jay Inslee issued a moratorium on executions. Washington State is one of four states with such bans, along with Oregon, Colorado, and Pennsylvania. The last execution in Washington took place seven years ago.

WTI, the only national organization composed of and led by exonerated death row survivors and family members, partners with various state and national organizations, including the WCADP, to advocate for the abolition of the death penalty. It empowers exonerated death row survivors, and their loved ones, to become leaders in the abolition movement.

WTI challenges politicians and the public to confront, what organization officials believe, is a fatally flawed criminal justice system that allows innocent people to end up on death row. It also supports death row survivors and their families confront the challenges of life after exoneration.

WTI's executive director is Magdaleno “Leno” Rose-Avila, who has worked with such noted human-rights luminaries as Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, and Sister Helen Prejean. 

Media contact: Matthew Altman, chair, CWU Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies