That Could Have Been Me: An Evening With Five Innocent Men Nearly Executed

Rick Halperin, director of SMU's human rights program, talks about the lives of five innocent men now free after spending years on death row.

By Leslie Minora, Mon., Oct. 17 2011

Imagine spending five years in a Nebraska prison for having brutally murdered a teenage honor student but knowing that the real killer is at large. Or rolling over in the middle of the night to put your arm around your spouse, only to fall out of bed because you're alone on a prison cot. Imagine your spouse, left hopeless, moving in with someone else and calling you by the new person's name on one of her infrequent visits, the one that would be the last.

And imagine living this while knowing that the situation would soon end -- because you were scheduled to die in an electric chair...

The event's organizer, human rights program director and anti-death penalty advocate Dr. Rick Halperin, set the stage with context. "Texas leads not only the U.S., but the free world in putting people to death," he said. Thirty-nine percent of all U.S. executions take place in Texas.

"This is a national problem, but it's really a regional phenomenon," Halperin said, adding that it's "lunacy" to believe that every person put to death is guilty. For every nine people executed, one is exonerated, he said before introducing the event's speakers. "These stories are stories of men who were spared, but shouldn't have been in a position to be spared."