Freeing the Unjustly Imprisoned: Innocence Project Affiliates Flourish, Many Tied to Universities

Posted: July 12, 2011 by scaryhouse in Uncategorized

by Paul Ruffins

The legal system put Christopher Ochoa (pictured) in prison for life for a murder he didn’t commit. Eventually, he was released and later completed a law degree at the University of Wisconsin. (Photo by AP Wideworld)

In 1998, Anthony Porter was literally a dead man walking. He had been convicted of a 1982 double murder and was on Illinois’ death row. Both the Illinois and U.S. supreme courts had turned away his appeals for a new trial, and he came within 48 hours of execution. However, in 1999, he was found innocent after the actual killer gave a videotaped confession to two journalism students of the Innocence Project (IP), which has a strong claim to be the most successful example of student activism since the Civil Rights Movement.

The first IP was founded in 1992 by attorneys Barry C. Scheck and Peter J. Neufeld at Yeshiva University’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. The original goal was to free people whose innocence could be proven using DNA. Today, there are more than 50 IPs and affiliates in more than 40 states, as well as in Canada, England, Australia and New Zealand. Most are connected with specific universities or law schools. Others, such as the Florida and Chicago IPs, are freestanding nonprofits that draw students from several schools. So far, IPs have helped free nearly 300 men and women who had served an average of 13 years for crimes they didn’t commit. Seventeen were on death row.

Though it was founded in New York City, the IP has probably had its largest impact in other jurisdictions. IP investigations have led to 42 exonerations in Texas—the most of any state. Furthermore, IP students at Northwestern University played a critical role in prompting the State of Illinois to repeal capital punishment.

“Overturning the convictions of 271 inmates is a real victory for fairness,” said Dr. Steve Egger, who is on the board of directors of the Innocence Project of Texas (IPOT).

Yet, “the greatest significance of the Innocence Projects has been to expose the continuous and systematic errors, flaws and sometimes deliberate police and prosecutorial misconduct that causes America’s criminal justice system to convict innocent people, who are most often Black or Latino and always working class or poor,” Egger adds.

via Freeing the Unjustly Imprisoned: Innocence Project Affiliates Flourish, Many Tied to Universities.

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