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Former death row inmate speaks in Memphis


MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Thursday was Ndume Olatushani's second time back in Memphis since being held prisoner here.

"It's kind of surreal in some ways," he said. "I experience a lot of emotions just coming back down to this place."

A place where he spent 28 years behind bars, accused of shooting and killing a man in 1983.

It happened at a grocery store where police say a manager, Joe Belenchia, was killed during a robbery.

Olatushani said he was in St. Louis during the crime, but got linked to it anyways.

He was convicted in 1985 and eventually put on death row.

"I never internalized the belief that it would actually happen, no," said Olatushani of being executed.

His conviction was overturned in 2011 when evidence came to light that some of the state's witnesses may have been protecting other suspects.

He was offered a new trial or an Alford plea deal that would free him immediately.

"What he was told was, 'If you don't take this, we are not going to be in a hurry to try you,' which means he'd be in the Shelby County jail for three years potentially," said Reverend Stacy Rector, executive director of Tennesseans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.

So, Olatushani took the deal and was released in 2012.

Now, he uses his freedom to educate others on the death penalty he hopes to get abolished.

"Life is going to knock us down, but the important thing is not how we got knocked down, but it's how we pick ourselves back up," said Olatushani.

He spoke to students at Lemoyne-Owen College on Thursday encouraging them to get involved, regardless of what their beliefs are.

"Knowledge makes us responsible, so once you come and you learn and you know something, then you have a responsibility to go out and do something about it," he said.

Olatushani is also a part of the Children's Defense Fund, which provides a voice for kids in need in our country.