From Arizona Daily Sun:
Chris Duarte and Ryan Staab put in the legwork.
And based upon their work, they are convinced that a Prescott man was wrongfully convicted of manslaughter in the shooting of another man near his home.
Now, the case is seeing new light in the courts.
What happens in the end has yet to be determined. But Jason Derek Krause, who has served his 10 1/2 year sentence and now lives a quiet life, would like the system that convicted him to acknowledge his innocence.
“This is a man who lost his life, and I’d like to see him get his life back, above all else,” Duarte said. “I know in my gut and my soul this is an innocent man.”
Staab added, “He just wants a piece of paper that says he’s free and clear.”
Welcome to a day in the life of the Arizona Innocence Project at Northern Arizona University.
“No longer are these cases hypothetical,” said Professor Robert Schehr, executive director of the AIP.
The students who sign up for the AIP class are undergraduates who are close to graduating and graduate students, Schehr said.
They have been taught the ins and outs of criminal procedure and AIP thrusts them into practical application.
The students review cases, inventory all files, visit crime scenes, take photographs, talk with police and attorneys and interview witnesses.
“They have to become experts on a case,” Schehr said.
The AIP is in its 11th year at NAU. In that time, they’ve reviewed more than 400 cases.
Staff attorney Alex Satanovsky said the AIP is contacted in letters by inmates. From the get-go, half of those letters are rejected for various reasons — the issues aren’t germane to innocence, or the alleged innocence is impossible to prove. The remainder are sent detailed questionnaires about their case.
About a third of those questionnaires fit the established criteria of the AIP, Satanovsky said. And about a third of those are assigned to students to review. Most of those cases will be closed. The students in the project currently have seven cases in various stages of review. The cases include an arson, two homicides of children and a sexual assault.
In the last 11 years, how many cases did students uncover that they believed were of actual innocence?
“A handful,” Schehr said. “Maybe four or five where we thought we had evidence of actual innocence.”
CHANCE TO GROW
“I say it over and over,” Schehr said. “‘You’re no different than a physician. Make a mistake and something harmful can happen to your client.’”
The students grow in confidence in their abilities in the process as they take on responsibilities. The students cross-check, they verify, they put together the pieces of a puzzle by wading through mountains of paper and evidence.
“That’s the way you do it,” Schehr said. “Do it.”
On top of the three-hour weekly class, students have to sign on to working at least eight hours a week for AIP. The offices are housed in two buildings upstairs in Bury Hall on North Campus.
“The time they put in, the dedication they show, is constantly amazing to me,” Schehr said.
Each semester, new students pick up on the information and the progress the students from the prior semester have left behind. Meticulous documentation is key. Often, the cases take years to come to fruition, long after the students who have worked on a case have graduated and moved onto law school or other professions.
Sometimes, a case gets some traction — like with Krause.
Duarte said that the FBI sent Yavapai County a letter stating that a test used on the bullets gathered in the case was no longer considered valid. That gave an “in” for further litigation.
Staab said that during the process, they began working on how a man whose weapon had discharged while he was on the ground had ended up killing the victim, who had been driving a vehicle in front of Krause’s property.
The took measurements. They did the trigonometry of angles and trajectories and concluded that it would have been impossible for Krause, even though he had accidentally fired his weapon, to have shot the driver.
Through Flagstaff attorney John Trebon, the project filed a petition for post-conviction relief in Yavapai County Superior Court. The case is in progress.
“It’s exciting, but at the same time, it’s really hard not to get cynical,” Staab said. The process is long, and the system, although the best in the world, still has its flaws.
Schehr said his first statement to the students is, “Convict them.”
If the students find they are unable to prove the defendants committed the crime beyond a reasonable doubt, they need to start asking questions and putting together a case.
“To watch the process unfold — that’s the best part,” Schehr said.
Paige Parker, 20, a criminal justice senior, said she is law school-bound after graduation.
“Before, I was gung ho on being a prosecutor and putting away bad guys,” she said. “Now, I have a new take on the process and seeking justice.”
She and her group are currently combing the files of an arson. Her focus on the case has been fire science.
“I really didn’t think I’d be doing the science side of it,” Parker said. “It’s really interesting to learn.”
Marie Bodart, a law school graduate from Belgium, is currently interning with the project.
“I have learned a lot, of course, about the innocence project and wrongful conviction in America,” Bodart said.
Her assigned task is to take what she has learned in order to help establish an innocence project in Belgium upon her return.
Sean Kautenburger, 22, a criminal justice senior, is interested in being a public defender.
“From the second I was in one of Schehr’s classes, the wrongful conviction issue was appealing to me,” Kautenburger said.
Courtney Bellio, 21, a senior criminal justice major, came onto the AIP because she wants to go to law school. She and her group are going through all the files in a case. They are looking at the evidence to determine if there is the possibility of building a case.
“This is invaluable experience for me to do as a undergrad,” she said, adding that typically, the experience she is gaining with AIP wouldn’t be offered until much later in her educational career. “It’s tough. You have to learn by doing it, and I’m learning a lot as I go through it.”