Speaking on the eve of a major event this week in Brussels on the death penalty, Joaquín José Martínez said it had cost him over $1.5m to clear his name and win the pardon which led to him being freed.
He said, “Luckily, I had the means to do this, but, of course, this is exceptional as the vast majority of death row inmates do not have such resources.”
Martínez was speaking at Brussels press club just ahead of the opening ceremony in Parliament of the 7th world congress against the death penalty.
“The death penalty cannot be defended in a civilised world, not least because of the possibility of mistakes happening,” he told reporters.
Martínez, a father of two who was wrongly accused of a double homicide in Florida in 1997, spent over five years in prison, three of them on death row, before his release in 2001.
He has since campaigned for the global abolition of the death penalty.
“Ironically, I used to believe in the death penalty until this happened to me. I’d seen people on TV who had been condemned and could not have imagined I would end up like that.”
“Ironically, I used to believe in the death penalty until this happened to me. I’d seen people on TV who had been condemned and could not have imagined I would end up like that” Joaquín José Martínez
“Some of the people who were on death row with me became my friends but none of them are alive today - they have all been executed.”
“Fortunately, I got a lot of support from some very influential people like the Pope but it also cost me €1.5m to clear my name,” Martínez added.
Among those speaking at the opening of the Congress on Tuesday was EU High Representative/Vice-President Federica Mogherini.
The event is co-hosted by the European Union and Belgium and will last for four days until 1 March.
The Congress takes place every three years, bringing together many public and private actors involved in the cause of death penalty abolition.
The event is, according to a European Commission source, an opportunity to reiterate the EU's strong opposition to capital punishment in all circumstances and for all cases.
A spokesman for the Congress said, “This year's edition will especially reach out to private sector actors and explore new paths for collaboration towards the abolition of the death penalty.”
Over 1,500 participants from all over the world are expected to attend the four-day event.
Last October, on the European and World Day against the Death Penalty, the Council of Europe and the European Union reiterated their “strong opposition to capital punishment in all circumstances and for all cases.”
A statement said, “The death penalty is an affront to human dignity. It constitutes cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and is contrary to the right to life. The death penalty has no established deterrent effect and it makes judicial errors irreversible.”
“Member States should continue taking effective measures to prevent their involvement, however indirect, in the use of the death penalty by third countries, such as by adopting measures that prevent the trade in goods that could subsequently be used to carry out executions.”
As part of the congress, the 47-nation Council of Europe is co-organising an event on capital punishment in Belarus on Thursday.
Belarus is the only country in Europe to still use the death penalty. Executions are usually carried out in secret and relatives may only be informed weeks or months later, said the CoE.
However, Belarus has, it adds, made a number of “positive” statements on the death penalty in recent years and the number of executions in the country has fallen from 47 in 1998 to 4 in 2018.
The CoE round table will focus on historical aspects of capital punishment in Belarus, the current situation and future strategies to move towards abolition.