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"Witness to Innocence" Tour Comes to KY

PHOTO: Sabrina Butler Porter brings her personal story about death row to Kentucky. Her message is that the death penalty does not work, and is wrong. Photo courtesy Witness to Innocence.
PHOTO: Sabrina Butler Porter brings her personal story about death row to Kentucky. Her message is that the death penalty does not work, and is wrong. Photo courtesy Witness to Innocence.
November 18, 2013

CAMPBELLSVILLE, Ky. - In Kentucky, where execution remains legal, opponents of the death penalty are hoping personal stories will help lead to change. That's why Sabrina Butler Porter is in the state, on an eight-day "Witness to Innocence" tour. Butler Porter spent five years in prison in Mississippi, three of those years on death row, for the death of her infant son. Eventually exonerated, she believes the death penalty is "wrong" and said it does not deter crime.

"You know, they're saying 'Okay, you went out here, you committed this crime, so we're going to kill you for it.' But in actuality, they're doing the same thing," she declared. "They're doing the same thing."

Butler Porter was 17 years old when she found her infant son, Walter, had stopped breathing. She says she tried to revive him, but by the time he reached the emergency room, it was too late. She was arrested the next day, convicted of murder and sentenced to die in 1990. After 33 months on death row, the Mississippi Supreme Court overturned the conviction, finding that her son's death had been the result of a kidney-related illness, and that the bruises on his body were from his mother's efforts to save him.

Death penalty opponents want Kentucky lawmakers to make life without parole the state's maximum sentence. Butler Porter pointed out that, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, 143 death row inmates have been fully exonerated since 1973.

"And I'm the only female ... and that's a lot of mistakes that the system has made," she said. "And I mean, I'm sure it's more than that they have killed already, you know, and these are lives that ... they just murdered 'em, the state just murdered 'em."

Butler Porter said she was able to survive on death row, in part, by keeping a journal. Bitter at first, she said she has learned to accept what happened to her and spread her story.

"My message is what God wants me to do and it's also healing to me, because the more I talk about it the better I'm able to deal with it," she said. "It helps me: spiritually, and mentally, physically, everything. It really helps me."

Butler Porter has been married for 18 years and has three children. She will speak on seven college campuses in the next week, beginning tonight at Campbellsville University. Dates and times are on the Kentucky ACLU website.

Greg Stotelmyer , Public News Service - KY