Monday, June 10, 2013

Meet the Exonerated: New Mexico's Death Row

Ron Keine, Assistant Director for 
Witness to Innocence
It's been a long time since I added to the list of Death Row Exonerated By State pages I listed on the right hand side of my blog. So today, I came across a video of Ron Keine being  interviewed by Bill Windsor (video below) from Lawless America about his experience as an innocent man on death row, which reminded me I need to complete the list I started over three years ago.  A little out of order but I'll backtrack to where I left off after I post New Mexico and Ron Keine's story.

Anyway, New Mexico knows firsthand that the innocent can go to death row. In 1974, four men--Thomas V. Gladish, Richard Greer, Ronald Keine and Clarence Smith--were wrongfully sentenced to death in New Mexico.

The four (left) were convicted of kidnapping, raping and killing William Velten. They could have been executed if not for an investigation by the Detroit News, which interviewed a key eyewitness in the case who said she was coached to identify the four.  Seventeen months later, the men were freed when another man confessed to the murder.

Inspired by the 1969 movie, "Easy Rider", Ron Keine a college student in Detroit at the time, decided to tour the country on a motorcycle with his friends. They joined an infamous California motorcycle gang Keine described as "a drinking club with a motorcycle problem."

In 1974, Keine, Doc and three friends had borrowed a van for a trip home when they were stopped and harassed by police in Oklahoma. They were arrested and charged with armed robbery of a gas station, which had burned down two years prior. But before Keine and his friends were set free, they were told they had to be extradited to New Mexico and were being charged with the Albuquerque murder of college student William Velten.

Once in New Mexico, Keine's court-appointed public defender advised Keine and his cohorts to plead guilty so they would only get life in prison. Keine pleaded not guilty and was taken immediately from the arraignment to death row, where he sat for two months awaiting trial.

At the trial, the prosecutor presented the testimony of a motel maid who claimed to have seen the men carry out the murder. Police, however, had found no evidence in the van the men were riding in or on their pocket knives, according to Keine. Keine asked his public defender several times to object to the evidence, but to no avail. He was convicted and sent to death row.

Keine said at that moment his "whole value system slammed down on you. Everything you believed about the law, the honesty, the ethics of it, out the window."

Keine stayed on death row awaiting his execution for two years, until a former police officer, Kerry Lee, confessed the murder to the pastor of a church. Keine was notified of his retrial nine days before his scheduled execution and was freed in 1976, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.


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