Woman's bid to save Death Row prisoner

DEATH Row campaigner Anna Khmelnitski has flown to the US in a bid to save the life of her pen pal prisoner.

Loyal friend: Anna Khmelnitski The 23-year-old Cambridge woman is convinced of convicted murderer Bill Clark's innocence and is helping his legal team prepare a case.

Anna, a healthcare assistant at Addenbrooke's Hospital, has been in the US for three weeks and had face-to-face talks with Californian Clark at the notorious San Quentin prison - but only via a phone link behind a glass panel.

Clark was convicted of murder after a woman was killed during an attempted robbery at a computer store in Fountain Valley, California, in October 1991 - and also convicted of organising the murder of a witness from his jail cell.

Anna, of Dane Drive, Newnham, started writing to Clark after finding an advert for pen pals on the internet.

She said: "I was shocked to find some people were facing the death penalty for longer than I've been alive. Bill was accused of murder during a computer store robbery that went wrong. He is convinced he will regain complete freedom.

"I started writing to Bill in March last year. He said the correspondence really helps him to keep up his optimism and he really appreciates that I chose to reach out to him.

"I will correspond with him until the end of his ordeal. It allows him to express his frustrations and provides a link with the outside world he can't get even though he has a TV.

"He strikes me as an optimistic and driven person and is currently keeping busy by writing children's books."

Though San Quentin is in a "beautiful seaside location", Anna said: "There are rigorous procedures before entering the prison and they are quite daunting.

"It was pretty nerve-wracking the first time but it does get easier once you have familiarised yourself with the prison rules."

She is helping Clark's legal team by accessing his files as they prepare to launch an appeal.
Anna corresponds with two other Death Row inmates, James Anderson and Melvin Turner, and has met them in the prison's "visitor cages".

She said: "The prisoner is let into the cage and then you are locked up. You are allowed to give them a hug at the start and at the end."

She is taking an extended break from work and hopes to fit in more prison visits before she returns in mid-April.

Facing death: Bill Clark was convictedOn a website highlighting his plight, Clark writes: "I wake up each morning in a 9 by 12 ft cell an innocent, wrongfully accused, wrongfully convicted man who's been sentenced to death."

He maintains he had a "credible and indisputable" alibi for the day of the store robbery and also denies links to the murder of the witness. Clark says his death sentence was brought about by "lies, deceit and a web of corruption".

On the site, at www.ccadp.org/ williamclark.htm, he has asked people to pray for him, write to him and donate cash to help him pay for an attorney.

Anna's mother Ellen said: "I approve of her actions - they are motivated by sympathy and compassion