Former death row inmate speaks at Jackson State Community College

JACKSON, Tenn. — Nineteen states in the U.S. do not have the death penalty, and an organization looking to increase that number visited Jackson State Community College.

The Tennessee for Alternatives to the Death Penalty put on the panel to explain why they feel it should be illegal in our state.

Sabrina Smith shared her personal story of how she was wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death row.

“I thought that was the day I was going to die,” said Smith recalling when she was in prison waiting for lethal injection.

Smith was convicted in 1990 of murdering her 9-month-old son who had stopped breathing. She was arrested because of bruises left by her resuscitation attempts.

“I couldn’t figure out why the justice system was doing me the way that they did,” Smith said. “I think that’s what made me have more drive to want to learn more about the law.”

Her conviction was overturned in 1992 after it was discovered that her son had suffered from kidney and heart problems caused by either cystic kidney disease or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS.

Smith was exonerated in 1995 after spending six and a half years on death row. 

“When you go to prison for these type of crimes, you’re not safe,” Smith said. “People think that you are, but you’re not. There is some person waiting for you to come to prison so they can take care of you.”

Her story was one of many shared on a panel discussion. Other panelists such as Cynthia Vaughn shared when she was 7 her stepfather murdered her mother and has since been on death row in Tennessee.

“I hated the world, I hated everything, but when I actually got to go up there and face him and let him know how he affected me in my life, I forgave him. I didn’t intend to forgive him, but I did forgive him,” Vaughn said.

According to statistics provided by the panel, since 2000 Tennessee has released four individuals who were wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death.

Smith is one of only two women in the United States exonerated from death row.

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