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Chicagoan freed from death row dies at his home

Delbert Tibbs lives with horror having been condemned death joy not having sentence carried out. Human beings are fallible make

Delbert Tibbs lives with the horror of having been condemned to death and the joy of not having the sentence carried out. Human beings are fallible and make fatal mistakes, said Tibbs, a 46 year old South Sider who nearly died for a murder he did not commit.

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Updated: January 8, 2014 6:17AM

While Chicagoan Delbert Tibbs sat falsely convicted of murder on death row in Florida in the 1970s, folksinger Pete Seeger wrote a ballad about him and civil rights activist Angela Davis raised money for his legal appeals.

After the case against Tibbs fell apart and he was released, his experiences became part of a play,”The Exonerated,” later turned into a TV movie.

And fellow Chicagoan Studs Terkel interviewed Tibbs for a chapter in his book, “Will the Circle Be Unbroken/Reflections on Death, Rebirth, and Hunger for a Faith.”

Tibbs, who returned to Chicago and worked to help other exonerated former death row inmates, died Nov. 23 in his Chicago home of apparent natural causes, according to David A. Love, executive director of Witness to Innocence.

He lived alone and was found the day after he died by a concerned family member, Love said.

Tibbs, 74, was a poet and assistant director of membership and training for Witness to Innocence at the time of his death. “He was a poet and had a very strong sense of social justice,” Love said . “Most of all people just loved him.”

One of Tibbs’ main tasks was to keep in touch with death row survivors. “It really made a difference in their lives to have him call them, check up on them and make sure that they’re all right.”

Tibbs was hitch-hiking in Florida in 1974 when he was arrested and charged with murder and rape, despite a solid alibi and a shaky witness identification. He was freed by the Florida Supreme court in 1977 after two years on death row.

“Despite all that he went through being wrongfully convicted, he still managed to have sense of calm about him,” Love said.

A memorial service for Tibbs will be held on Dec. 16 from 2 p.m.-4 p.m. at the DePaul University Law School, 25 E. Jackson Boulevard, 5th Floor.

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