Local dentists give activist and exonerated death row inmate new smile

Health News

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – A man spent more than 17 years in prison on death row for a crime he didn’t commit. Now, he has a new smile thanks to a team of New Mexico dentists.

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After spending so many years behind bars, Juan Melendez needed oral work done. Doctor Marisol King’s team says it’s happy to help. Every year, Enchanted Hills Dentistry and Cottonwood Smiles participates in a day of service every giving back to underserved patients. That’s how Dr. King met Juan Melendez. 

“I put my radio on and we listen to salsa music the whole time. I can see his foot moving while we’re working. We try to keep it relaxed and fun and it’s good for both of us,” says Dr. King. 

Melendez was convicted of a 1983 murder but freed in January 2002 after it was discovered that police with-held evidence – including a confession tape from the real killer. Since his release, he’s been an advocate against the death penalty across the country, including here in New Mexico. Our state repealed the death penalty back in 2009. In 2013, Melendez spoke at UNM’s School of Law. 

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 thankfully now that he’s been seen more often – we don’t,” explains Dr. King. 

Now Dr. King is working to teach Melendez about preventative care, “So that education piece is about telling Juan well, we want to take care of our mouth so that the rest of our body can be healthy as well.” Dr. King says that despite what Melendez has gone through, he keeps his spirits high. “To come out with this joy, and happiness and positivity, it’s contagious right so we all feel it,” she explains. 

Melendez now lives in Albuquerque. This year, he wrote a testimony in favor of proposed civil rights legislation.

Dr. King says her team helped many people today, providing more than $30,000 in donated dental work. 

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