Kenneth Reams was sentenced to death in 1993 when he was 18 years old for a crime he did not commit. Since then he has been incarcerated on Arkansas’ death row, spending every day of the past 26 years in solitary confinement.
Kenneth has pushed back the walls of his cell to become a painter, a poet, non-profit founder, and art event organizer – all while fighting for justice.
WE NEED YOUR HELP TO FREE KENNETH REAMS!
FREE MEN - a docu-film about his story, won several human rights awards around the world and Kenneth keeps inspiring thousand of people with his story of human resilience . Kenneth's case need more attention!
Kenneth Reams's case is a revelatory in any survey of US shameful legacy of severe and unfair punishment for African-American youth.
Kenneth is a native of Pine Bluff, Arkansas. Physical abuse, abject poverty, neglect, and lack of opportunity defined his childhood. In 1993, while still a teenager, he and a childhood friend—also a teenager—decided to commit a robbery so that his friend could have money to pay for his cap and gown for his high school graduation. They did not intend to cause any physical harm. However, during the robbery attempt, Kenneth's friend impulsively pulled the trigger. The bullet struck the victim, who died later that evening. The victim was a white man; Kenneth and his co-defendant are African-American.
Even though Kenneth did not shoot or intend or attempt to harm the victim, both teens were charged with capital murder. Kenneth's friend admitted his guilt, pleaded guilty, and received a sentence of life without the possibility parole. Kenneth, who did not shoot the victim, did not want to plead guilty to a murder he did not commit and decided to contest the charges in court. Ultimately, Kenneth was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death before a nearly all-white jury. He became the youngest inmate on Arkansas' death row, despite not having pulled the trigger or taken a life.
Kenneth never had a chance for a fair determination of his guilt. His defense was led by an overburdened, court-appointed, part-time public defender, who only began earnestly preparing for trial a month before its commencement. In addition to failing to challenge the discriminatory jury selection process that landed Kenneth a nearly all-white jury, his attorney failed to call the actual shooter, Kenneth’s co-defendant, as a witness, despite the fact that he had already pleaded guilty to the charges. He allowed the prosecuting attorney to claim that Kenneth was the shooter and called only Kenneth to testify as a witness in his defense during the phase of the trial determining guilt. However, years later, on appeal, Kenneth' co-defendant and other witnesses testified that Kenneth was not the shooter and that Kenneth’s attorney had never made an effort to reach out to them.
Despite being sentenced to death as a teen, then housed in solitary confinement—spending twenty-three hours a day in a cell no bigger than a parking space—Kenneth found redemption from within. He found an outlet in art—using whatever materials he could find—and writing. His work began to be appear in art shows in both the States and abroad. Working with his wife, Isabelle, and outside supporters, in 2012, he founded Who Decides, Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to using art to get the public to think about capital punishment, solitary confinement, and mass incarceration.
While a post-conviction judge overturned his death sentence—a decision affirmed by the Arkansas Supreme Court— he remains incarcerated for the capital murder he did not commit. He is working with organizations such as the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund and other supporters to bring attention to his case. In the recent past, he has spoken remotely to audiences about his life and experience in the criminal justice system at a number of universities, including Princeton University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the University of Miami School of Law, and the University of Arkansas. An award-winning documentary, titled FREE MEN, premiered recently and focuses on his case, his art and his story of human resilience; the documentary has been shown to audiences across the globe in places such as Beirut, Buenos Aires, Geneva, Islamabad, Tokyo, Italy and Vienna and many more, winning Human Rights Awards and inspiring thousand of people.
It is time for Kenneth to be freed. He faces adversity few will ever understand and possesses fortitude beyond compare.
He wakes up each day in solitary confinement, fighting peacefully for his freedom.
He is an advocate for redemption, equality, and the humane treatment of the incarcerated.
He sees hope in the hopeless and the humanity in those society has cast away. We hope that Amnesty International will help us tell his story and finally get Kenneth the justice he deserves.
George Kendall, Kenneth’s attorney