Exonerated death row inmate speaks in Omaha for Nebraska Catholic Conference

Posted at 5:47 PM, Oct 24, 2016
and last updated 2016-10-24 19:19:07-04

"I came within three days of being executed,” said Joe D’Ambrosio.

Ohio native Joe D’Ambrosio never had a run-in with the law, that was until he was arrested for murder at the age of 26 in 1988.

“Take your worst nightmare and multiply it by a billion and you wouldn't even be close to it,” said D’Ambrosio.

D’Ambrosio says he was falsely accused. 

"I thought me being innocent would be the cloak that protected me and it didn’t,” said D’Ambrosio.

In 1989 D’Ambrosio was sentenced to death.  He spent years on death row waiting to be executed. 

“Once you're convicted and you put on an orange uniform nobody believes the dead man walking. I didn't believe him either, until I proved it for myself,” said Father Neil Kookoothe.

Father Neil Kookoothe, who is also an attorney, took a chance on D’Ambrosio.  He uncovered withheld evidence that proved his innocence.  After 21 years on death row, D’Ambrosio was released. 

“This could happen to you, your children, or your grandchildren and you're powerless,” said D’Ambrosio.

This week D’Ambrosio and Father Kookoothe are in Nebraska speaking at churches as part of the Nebraska Catholic Conference’s efforts to get voters to vote to “retain” the death penalty repeal on November 8th. 

“The death penalty is absolutely not necessary to protect our streets, our homes, our children and our families,” said Father Kookoothe.

Catholic Bishops of Nebraska say justice requires punishment, but it does not require those who have committed serious crimes to be put to death. 

“It's a human issue because when we literally denigrate the dignity of our brothers and sisters, we denigrate the dignity of ourselves,” said Father Kookoothe.