Death row exonerees fight for justice


Death row exoneree Joe D’Ambrosio speaks to students about his experiences of being on death row on Tuesday evening. D’Ambrosio was sentenced to death for murder in 1989, the conviction was overturned in 2006 and he was released in 2009. Photo by Jenna Watson.

Haley Phillippi

Three speakers spoke to a small group in the Kiva Tuesday night about their experiences on death row for crimes they did not commit.

Though never expected to leave prison, Dale Johnston, Derrick Jamison and Joe D’Ambrosio were exonerated from death row.

The speakers have traveled to campuses across Ohio as part of the 25th Anniversary of Innocence Tour to share the stories of former death row inmates. The tour was created by the Ohioans to Stop Executions, which is an affiliate of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.

Currently, 142 people have been exonerated from death row in the United States.

Dale Johnston

Johnston, a native of Logan, Ohio, was sentenced to death in 1984 for the 1982 murder of his stepdaughter Annette and her boyfriend Todd. He spent seven years in prison and five on death row.

“I was held under armed guard,” said Johnston, who said the police wanted him to confess to killing the kids.

Johnston said a witness told police she heard shots and someone yell, “My god, you killed him.”

Johnston was exonerated in 1990, and he now spends his time speaking out against the death penalty.

“Eliminate the death penalty,” Johnston said, “otherwise we will continue to execute the innocent.”

Derrick Jamison

“My name is Derrick Jamison, and I am a survivor of Ohio death row,” said Jamison.

He spent 20 years on death row before he was freed in 2005.

Jamison was sentenced to death for a murder and robbery. He said he was offered a plea deal in May 2002 that would set him free if he were to confess to the crimes.

“I told them no because I can’t confess to something I didn’t do,” he said.

Jamison became tearful when talking about his family. He lost his mother, father, two aunts and a niece while he was on death row.

“I honestly think it was the stress about what happened to me that cut my mom and dad’s life short,” he said. “[It was] the struggle, the emotion and pain of seeing their child put on death row.”

He wanted the people of Ohio to know there are innocent people sitting on death row.

Joe D’Ambrosio

D’Ambrosio spent 21 years on death row for the murder of Anthony Klann of Cleveland. He was released in 2009 and officially exonerated in 2012.

“You can be doing everything right in your life,” he said, “and you can get caught up in something and be thrown on death row.”

D’Ambrosio said he wrote to journalism and law schools, media, and even Oprah.

“No one wants to listen to the ‘dead man walking,’” he said.

He had one of the shortest death penalty trials in Ohio.

D’Ambrosio said he was lucky to have an attorney who was also a registered trauma nurse and priest.

The first thing his attorney said to him was, “you can’t send someone to prison in three days.”

“The justice system in this country is the best in the world,” D’Ambrosio said. “It’s the people that enact it are the ones that are messed up.”

Contact Haley Phillippi at [email protected].