On August 10, 2012, this blog published an article entitled “Update on Wisconsin Innocence Project’s Case: The Rape that Wasn’t.” It was the story of Jarrett Adams. In 1998 when he was 17 years old, Adams was accused of sexual assault and convicted after his court-appointed lawyer advised him to take a “no-defense strategy.”
A key witness who would likely have prevented Adams’ conviction never was called to testify. Adams was convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison, a sentence that was immediately increased to 28 years when he told the judge he was innocent.
While he worked out his frustration in prison playing occasional basketball, Adams’ press for freedom occurred in the prison library. He became self-educated in the law, and eventually attracted the assistance of the Wisconsin Innocence Project (WIP). The WIP’s Keith Findley led the defense and pursued a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel.
While it is difficult to meet the court standard for a new trial on this claim, Adams and the Wisconsin Innocence Project won a unanimous decision in the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. The State of Wisconsin dropped the charges against him, and Adams was freed after serving nearly eight years in prison.
Although the world had changed and Adam’s life had been put on hold at age 17, he was determined to pursue a lofty goal. He wanted to become a lawyer. He had been very engaged in his own defense strategy, and he now wanted to prevent others from experiencing the nightmare of wrongful conviction.
After his release from prison, Adams earned an associates degree with honors and then a college degree. With the help of the Chicago Bar Foundation’s Marovitz Public Interest Scholarship, he earned his law degree from Loyola University this past spring.
Adams’ passion for public service and his persistence earned him yet another distinction. He won a fellowship to clerk on the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. Ironically, this is the court that overturned his conviction.
Adams’ commitment to change the story of his life is both inspirational and promising for others and for our justice system. As he told NBC News, he plans to represent those who can’t afford an attorney and lobby Congress on reforming re-entry programs.
“…the story of Jarrett Adams,” he added, “is going to be a person wrongfully convicted, got out, and worked each and every day ‘til he gasped his last breath to change the criminal justice system for the better.”
Congratulations, and Godspeed in that mission, Mr. Adams.
Read the NBC Today story here (TODAY).
Read our 2012 report here (Wrongful Convictions Blog).