Local dentists give activist and innocent death row inmate a new smile
ALBUQUERQUE, NM (KRQE) – A man has spent more than 17 years in prison on death row for a crime he did not commit. Now he has a new smile thanks to a team of dentists from New Mexico.
After spending so many years behind bars, Juan Melendez needed oral work. Doctor Marisol King’s team are happy to help. Each year, Enchanted Hills Dentistry and Cottonwood Smiles participate in a Day of Service giving back to underserved patients. This is how Dr King met Juan Melendez.
“I turn on my radio and we listen to salsa all the time. I can see his foot moving as we work. We try to keep it relaxed and fun and it’s good for both of us, ”says Dr. King.
Melendez was convicted of murder in 1983 but released in January 2002 after it was discovered that police withheld evidence, including a confession tape from the real killer. Since his release, he has campaigned against the death penalty across the country, including here in New Mexico. Our state repealed the death penalty in 2009. In 2013, Melendez spoke at UNM Law School.
When Melendez was finally released from prison, he needed oral care. “The first time we saw Juan we had to do a lot of work and luckily now that he’s seen more often we don’t do it anymore,” says Dr King.
Now Dr King is working hard to teach Melendez about preventative care. Dr King says that despite what Melendez has been through, he’s keeping his spirits up. “Coming back with this joy, this happiness and this positivity is contagious, so we all feel it,” she explains.
Melendez now lives in Albuquerque. This year he wrote a testimonial in support of the Civil Rights Bill.
Dr. King says her team has helped many people today, providing them with over $ 30,000 in dental care.