If you logged into my Facebook yesterday, you would have seen a livestream of my Yes on 62 conversations in San Francisco. I’m passionate about ending capital punishment around the world. It’s a barbaric and inhumane form of punishment that should have no place in modern society.
New technology and evidence have proven the innocence of 156 people on death row across the US. What’s more a death sentence costs 18 times more than life in prison without parole. Californians, alone, have spent $5 billion since 1978 to put 13 people to death, at a cost of $384 million per execution.
But there are positive signs that the tide is turning. Particularly in the US, it seems there has never been greater momentum to challenge the current system and hopefully abolish the death penalty for good.
Prop 62 is one such movement moving the needle – addressing all the problems associated with the death penalty by replacing it with life in prison without the possibility of parole. I’m urging all Californians to vote Yes on 62, the proposition will provide swift and certain justice, save the state $150 million per year, and make sure it never executes another innocent person. It’s a great step in the right direction.
California is home to the largest death row population in the Western Hemisphere, which made yesterday's San Francisco gathering a fitting setting for our conversation.
I’ve met some impressive people in my life, but Anthony Ray Hinton stopped me in my tracks, his grace and humour inspire me immensely. He was held on death row for nearly 30 years after being convicted of two murders in Birmingham, Alabama.
In 2014, the US Supreme Court ruled that his original defence lawyer was "constitutionally deficient", and in 2015 the Jefferson County district attorney’s office moved to drop the case after the government's forensic expert admitted that he had got it wrong 30 years ago when he said that the crime-scene bullets matched Ray's gun.
A few days later Ray was released from the prison, after his conviction was overturned and the state dropped all charges against him – making him the 152nd person exonerated from death row in the US since 1973. Ray has never received an apology from those who prosecuted and convicted him, and the State of Alabama has not paid him a penny of compensation for his ordeal.
My son Sam’s film company, Sundog Pictures has produced a moving and eye-opening documentary on Ray's story. Death Penalty Fail: One Is Too Many unpicks the devastating impact that the death penalty can have, and casts a new light on America’s broken system of capital by exploring a very human story of loss. Watch the trailer for documentary above, or find out more at www.deathpenaltyfail.org.
Sadly Anthony’s story is not unique. At yesterday's event we were privileged to be joined by three inspiring men - Paris Powell, Randy Steidl and Shujaa Graham from Witness to Innocence - who have all suffered the consequences of this flawed system. A total of 156 people have been exonerated from death row in the US. How many innocent people have been executed?
Join me in sharing #DeathPenaltyFail as widely as possible, with friends, families and colleagues. Head over to www.deathpenaltyfail.org to find out more, watch other moving films that highlight the end to the practice, and join the movement. And if you are in California vote Yes on Prop 62 on November 8th 2016.
Remember, as Randy so eloquently said: "You can release a man from death row, but you can't release a man from the grave."