Former death row inmates bond over exoneration

- Former death row inmates - since exonerated and cleared of any wrongdoing - are meeting in Tampa this weekend for the annual meeting of the Witness to Innocence group. 

Florida's death penalty is fiercely debated, now more than ever. Last month, the legislature changed the law to fix a sentencing process that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional. At the same time, the state attorney in Orlando stirred controversy by saying she'll never pursue the death penalty because it's ineffective.

As the debates rage, a group of former inmates, freed from death row, are bonding over their experiences and their innocence. 

Sabrina Butler was 17 in 1989. She was charged with killing her newborn in Mississippi, and less than a year later, she was on death row.

"You are scared, you don't know what's going to happen, you don't have the right legal representation," Butler said of her life at that time. 

It took six years for new lawyers to prove her son died of medical reasons and that the bruises on his body were from her attempts at CPR.

"I wouldn't wish that on my worst enemy," she said. "For a system to take you, I lost my son, and throw me away on top of that."

Nathson Fields did not fit the description of the men Chicago police were looking for in a 1984 double homicide. They were looking for African American teenagers with light skin.

"I was 30 years old, and I have always been dark skinned," Fields said.

But he was convicted anyway.

"You'd be like, 'How does this happen?'" Fields remembers thinking to himself.

He was taken from his girlfriend and newborn daughter and sent to death row.

"When they put me in the cell, I heard all types of screaming at night, guys were crying out, calling for their mothers," Fields remembers.

It was later discovered that the judge who sent him away took a bribe to do so. It took five years for that news to surface, but it took another 20 for Fields to be released from prison.

"I know I could have been executed. I had two execution dates. This judge duped the entire Illinois Supreme Court," Fields said.

He and Butler - who want the death penalty outlawed - want everyone to consider what happened to them as they watch the debate happening in Florida and nationwide over the Constitutionality, morality, and effectiveness of the death penalty.

"We see it in a baseball game. The guy slides into second base; he was out. Further review; he was safe. Honest mistake. We make 'em. Factor in the death penalty," Fields said.

The two former inmates are speakers for the anti-death penalty group Witness to Innocence.

Last week, the 158th American was released from death row after being exonerated. It was the second person this year.

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