Amrine, activists speak out at rally

Under a cloudless sky at Lowry Mall with Memorial Union and Jesse Hall in the background, Joe Amrine stood. This scene on Monday was a stark contrast to the prison Amrine saw while on death row until only four months ago.

Amrine, who was wrongfully convicted, spoke at a rally Monday about the need for students to voice their opinions about the injustices of the death penalty.

"It took a defense team, Amnesty International, Christian groups, the ACLU and many other people coming together to free an innocent man," said Anthony Johnson, president of the MU law school's chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, while speaking at the rally. "We need more people to step forward because there are more Joe Amrines on death row."

Amrine said he attributes his freedom to the work of MU graduate students who filmed the documentary "Unreasonable Doubt: The Joe Amrine Case," which will show at Ragtag Cinemacafé, 23 N. Tenth St., at 9 tonight.

"Prior to the documentary, I didn't have a lot of support," he said. "I had a little, but not as much as the film. It saved my life."

Amrine was serving a 15-year sentence for robbery, burglary and forgery when in 1986 he was sentenced to death for the stabbing death of another inmate. Amrine spent a total of 26 years in prison. In May 2003 the Missouri Supreme Court overturned his death sentence, and he was released in July.

Since his release, Amrine has spent time with his family members, many of whom he had never met. His niece, MU sophomore Marika Amrine, attended the rally.

"I'm happy," she said. "We never thought it would be possible. Every time we see him it's like &#39wow' because it's been so long. I honestly believe it was why he was released."

Amrine said he plans to continue working and speaking about the injustices he sees in the death-penalty system.

"Everybody's human," Amrine said. "Everybody makes mistakes, whether in committing a crime or in the jury box, but killing isn't right, whether you're doing it on the streets or in a courtroom."

The speakers urged students to voice their opinions and to demand a change in the death-penalty system by working with activist groups, signing petitions and voting.

"There are a lot of votes here," Amrine said. "They should let their voices be heard. Even though a lot of people feel the death penalty won't affect them, since they're citizens here they're a part of it. Who wants to be a part of a government that executes juveniles or retarded people or people because of the color of their skin? Votes can change these things."

Each death-penalty case costs approximately $2 million, said Mike Lenza, a doctoral student who recently wrote a dissertation on the Missouri death-penalty system.

"We need to ask &#39What good does that money do?'" he said. "Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent to recreate injustice."

Amrine said he is happy to have a second chance at life.

"I'll be happy the rest of my life regardless of where my life goes," he said. "I could be living on the streets, and I'll still be happy. This is a happiness that will last me a lifetime because I never thought it would be possible."

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