“What we would like to see is change in the culture in the way government officials respond to wrongful convictions,” says Katie Monroe. “We’d like it to grow to a place where government officials realize that correcting mistakes is good for all of us and not just the person in prison.” Monroe, longtime leader of the Rocky Mountain Innocence Project (RMIP), is leaving her RMIP post, as reported here, to become the Innocence Project’s first person in Washington, D.C. dedicated to working with prosecutor and police groups to shape policy that can reduce wrongful conviction.
She takes helpful experience to the challenge. The RMIC authored with the Utah Attorney General’s office Utah’s 2008 non-DNA factual innocence statute, which provides opportunity for inmates claiming innocence in non-DNA cases and compensation for the wrongfully convicted.
Implementation of the 2008 statute has been challenging.
Twice the RMIC agreed to amend (further restrict) the statute in response to concerns of prosecutors and victim’s groups that the provision is too broad or available to too many. However, Monroe points out that there have been just three exonerations since 2008.
That includes the 2011 exoneration of Debra Brown, who was freed last year after serving 17 years in prison on a murder conviction. The RMIC worked on the case for years. Second District Court Judge Michael DeReda, relied on the 2008 statute in hearing the case and finding Brown factually innocent. As reported here, the state has appealed the exoneration in an effort “to prevent establishment of a flawed legal precedent” even as the state has said it doesn’t want to send Debra Brown back to prison.
Meanwhile the statute has enabled some assistance for Harry Miller, 59, who spent 3.5 years of a 5 years-to-life sentence in prison. Kent Hart of the Legal Defenders Association and Utah private attorney Patrick Lindsay helped identify records and witnesses supporting Miller’s claim that he was in Louisiana recovering from a stroke at the time of the crime. Miller was eventually released. Under the 2008 statute, he collected $100,000+ for his 3.5 years in prison. Read a comprehensive article on his case here.
For Monroe wrongful conviction is personal. Her mother spent 11 years in prison for murder in a death that had first been ruled a suicide. A federal court overturned Beverly Monroe’s conviction, calling the case a “monument to prosecutorial indiscretions and mishandling.” This experience clearly shaped Katie Monroe’s career path and mission.
Thank you, Katie Monroe, and Godspeed.