Merel was interview by national newspaper Algemeen Dagblad. Click here to read the original interview in Dutch or read the translation below the picture.
Why Merel quit her job and moves to Texas for a death row inmate
Rotterdam legal advisor Merel Pontier (27) is moving to the United States to fight for death row inmate Clinton Young. ‘I can do more for him in Texas.’
Pontier, who works at the Public Prosecution Service, has been committed to helping Young for years. The Texan was found guilty of two murders in 2003. He was said to have shot the driver of a car in his left temple during a drug deal, while being seated in the passenger seat. The following day, he supposedly kidnapped and killed another person.
Young denies. Because how could he have shot the victim from the left if Young himself was in the passenger seat, on the right? And if he had been the one who fired, why weren’t his fingerprints and DNA found on the weapon? Both murders were committed by fellow suspect David Page, Young says. However, Page and two other co-defendants framed him and made incriminating statements about Young in exchange for reduced punishment. Meanwhile, the 18-year-old Texan is sentenced to death.
When Pontier sees a TV documentary about Young in 2014, she can’t let his story go. She writes letters to the American and visits him in prison. The more she hears and reads about the case, the more she becomes convinced of his innocence.
Young’s lawyers have managed to stop the execution for fourteen years, but two years ago ‘prisoner 999447’ is told his execution date: 26 October 2017. The Clinton Young Foundation (Pontier is a board member) and Amnesty International are launching a media campaign. A petition against the execution is signed more than 40,000 times. MPs and a member of the European Parliament put the issue on the political agenda and the Dutch ambassador in America contacts the governor of Texas. It all seems in vain, the verdict remains.
Pontier flies to Texas one more time to say goodbye. But when she turns on her phone again after landing, she receives ecstatic text messages: the judge has postponed the execution. Lawyers discovered new evidence at the last minute that points in the direction of Page.
The whirlwind of emotions leaves Clinton Young confused. He has been in a cell with permanent camera surveillance for weeks, to prevent him from committing suicide. Pontier: ‘He had already written farewell letters and prepared for his execution. That had a huge impact. But I admire his fighting spirit. He is in an isolation cell 22 hours a day. Few people remain sane.’
Strengthened by the stay of the execution, Pontier decided to quit her job at the Public Prosecution Service and move to Texas in mid-August. To delve deeper into the American legal system, she will follow a one-year Master program in law at the University of Austin, with the death penalty as a specialty. After that year, she will be a licensed lawyer in the state of Texas. ‘If I have more knowledge of the legal system, I can legally assist Clinton. And of course I will visit him next year, and hopefully the hearings too. I don’t have to fly for ten hours anymore, three hours of driving will soon be enough.’
If everything goes according to plan, Pontier returns to the Netherlands after a year. ‘Then I would like to work at an international law firm, preferably one with an establishment in the US. But you never know how it goes. If I want, I can also stay in America.’