Assigned to read a common book on exonerated prison inmates, new students at New College of Florida will follow up their summer reading with death penalty-related presentations by guest speakers who include a local public defender and alumnus, an inmate cleared of a murder-rape conviction and a DNA researcher.
Over the summer, New College freshmen were asked to read "The Exonerated," a short play based on transcripts from trials and interviews with more than 40 exonerated inmates who had received the death penalty. New students will focus on the book during orientation, which is Aug. 22-29. Fall classes at New College begin Aug. 29.
The Court TV film, "The Exonerated," which stars actors Danny Glover, Susan Sarandon, Brian Dennehy and Aidan Quinn, will be shown twice: Monday, Aug. 27, at 7 p.m. and Thursday, Sept. 6, at 6 p.m.; both showings will be in the Teaching Auditorium, Hamilton Center, which is located on New College's campus east of Tamiami Trail.
Three speakers will come to New College for public talks related to "The Exonerated," all speaking in the Teaching Auditorium, Hamilton Center:
l "A Community Conversation on the Death Penalty," Thursday, Aug. 30, 7 p.m.
New College graduate Adam Tebrugge, who has worked for 22 years in the Florida's Public Defenders Office in Sarasota, will lead a discussion on the death penalty. A graduate of the Florida State University College of Law and a board-certified criminal trial attorney, Tebrugge is a frequent speaker on criminal justice issues. He is a member of the Death Penalty Steering Committee of the Florida Public Defender Association and helps to organize the annual "Life Over Death" training conference for attorneys.
l "An Exoneree’s Odyssey," Thursday, Sept. 6, 7:30 p.m., Teaching Auditorium, Hamilton Center
Guest speaker John Restivo served 16 years in prison before DNA tests excluded him from involvement in a 1984 murder and rape in New York. He was sentenced in 1987 to 33-1/3 years to life. The Innocence Project, founded in 1992 to assist prisoners who could be proven innocent through DNA testing, took up his case in 1997. False confessions, use of informants and forensic-science misconduct are cited as contributing causes of Restivo's wrongful conviction. He was exonerated in 2005.
l "Forensic DNA Analysis: Popular Perceptions and Reality," Friday, Sept. 7, 4 p.m.
Dr. Matt Thomas, a senior scientist and laboratory manager at DNAPrint, will speak on forensics in evidence collection. Since joining DNAPrint, Thomas has played an instrumental role in research, development and commercialization of innovative forensics products that have aided investigations around the world. At DNAPrint, Thomas oversees the forensic operations of the company as well as projects dedicated to understanding the genetic makeup of the world populations.
The play, "The Exonerated," which grew out of the Innocence Project, won the 2003 Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Off-Broadway Play, Drama Desk and Lucille Lortel awards, and the LA Ovation Award for Best World Premiere Play. It was nominated for four additional Ovation Awards, three NAACP Theater awards and the John Gassner Playwriting Award.
The play’s 12 subjects ("just like in a jury," wrote one of the authors) were freed through an appeals process that left them imprisoned on death row for as long as 20 years. In each case, crusading lawyers working pro bono, journalism students or investigative reporters worked to overturn the inmates' convictions.