'Help free my pen pal on Death Row' - Gloucestershire man's campaign
BEFRIENDING a death row prisoner led Gloucestershire man Swithin Fry halfway across the world – and on a crusade to free him.
The 63-year-old visited inmate Timothy Coleman, who was sentenced to death for aggravated murder 16 years ago, in the US after becoming his pen pal.
Timothy is said to have killed a prosecution witness in a drugs case against him.
Playwright Swithin started writing to the 43-year-old after answering an advert in The Big Issue magazine.
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After six months of writing letters, Swithin visited his jailed friend at the Chillicothe Correctional Institution, in Ohio.
Now Swithin, a retired Cirencester College teacher, is launching a campaign to free him. He said: "In Tim's very first letter he had told me about being innocent.
"I was very green behind the ears and I felt squeamish when it came to talking about murder.
"But six months later, I was visiting the US with my wife and I decided I would visit him. I was with him for a whole day.
"I felt 80 per cent convinced that he is innocent. Now I'm 100 per cent.
"Most of his family have stopped visiting but I think my letters give him hope.
"I was nervous about going into the prison. You have seen it in the movies where they are behind a glass partition but it wasn't like that. It was more like a prison block out of Porridge.
"We were face to face and we were able to hug although he was chained to the table which was screwed into the floor.
"He was so relaxed and has a real stoicism about him. He's such an inspiration. It would drive me mad to be in there."
Timothy is still allowed to appeal one more time and there are hopes that new evidence will help to win his case.
Swithin is planning to collect signatures calling for his release. He has also penned a monologue about it which was performed at the Everyman Theatre, in Cheltenham.
He is not the first Gloucestershire resident to befriend a death row prisoner.
Human rights campaigner Maureen Timmins, from Parkend, near Lydney, has written to many death row prisoners.
She said: "They get a lot of comfort from the letters. They've got nothing else.
"One guy even shared his last phone call with me before his execution. He just wanted to say goodbye."
Swithin has a blog about Timothy's plight at http://deathrowtim.tumblr.com.