Ndume Olatushani spent 28 years in prison, 20 of those on death row, for killing a man he had never seen. Olatushani was convicted of capital murder in 1985 for the murder of a Memphis grocery store owner, Joe Belenchia, which took place during a botched robbery. Olatushani maintains that he was in St. Louis at his mother’s birthday party during the time of the killing.
Olatushani was released from prison on June 1, 2012 after taking an Alford plea, a guilty plea in criminal court, where the defendant does not admit the act and asserts innocence. He was released with time served.
Olatushani, Moyes and Stacey Rector, executive director of the non-profit Tennesseans for Alternatives to the Death Sentence, joined Bill Zechman for an extended “Focus” recording that will be broadcast on public radio WCPI 91.3. The interview will air Tuesday, August 6 at 5:05 p.m., Wednesday, August 7 at 5:15 a.m. and Thursday, August 8 at 1:05 p.m.
Zechman said, “Among the interesting things that came up in the “Focus” interview was Ndume’s comments on how Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) forecasts its needs for additional prison beds. As somewhat of an expert on incarceration, he said CCA plans its construction projects based in part on a given state’s failure rate in second and third-grade reading. As a broad average, the cost of juvenile incarceration is in the range of $50,000 to $70,000 per person per year.”
Zechman, who serves as chairman of the Warren County School Board, added, “Compare that to the $9,123 we spend on average in Tennessee to educate a students in public schools. Warren County’s per-pupil investment in education is below the average, $8,348.”
According to information given by Tennesseans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, A 2004 study by the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury concluded that capital murder trials cost an average of 48 percent more than the average cost of trial in which prosecutors seek life imprisonment.
The organization says the poor, people of color, and those with mental illness are disproportionately represented on Tennessee’s death row. They also say studies have shown that a person is three times more likely to receive a death sentence if the victim is white.
Rector said, “In Tennessee, a total of six people have been executed between 2000-2013. Three people on death row have been exonerated. They were either declared not guilty during a new trial or they had all charges dropped.”
According to Rector, since 1973, 142 people have been released from death rows nationwide when evidence of their wrongful convictions emerged.
For more information about Tennesseeans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, visit www.tennesseedeathpenalty.org.
To hear more about Olatushani’s plight, tune in to public radio station WCPI 91.3 on Tuesday, August 6 at 5:05 p.m., Wednesday, August 7 at 5:15 a.m. and/ or Thursday, August 8 at 1:05 p.m.