Category Archives: Project Spotlights

Is ‘Innocence’ work over in the UK?

For some time, the news emanating from the UK has been getting worse with regard to the potential for miscarriages of justice, with law reforms diminishing legal protections for suspects and the almost total withdrawal of legal aid for the vast majority (nevermind the current moral panic of historic child sexual abuse which is swelling the prison population). This also comes at a time when changes to the rules on who can receive compensation for miscarriages of justice have also been ‘tightened’ to the point where barely anyone will qualify. I have blogged about many of the bad news stories coming out of the UK – including forensic science mishaps and police corruption seemingly continuing unabated regardless of new regulators or complaints bodies.Justice statue

Despite what one could view as the growing IMPORTANCE therefore of ‘innocence’ work in the UK, it looks as if things may be heading in the opposite direction. Following years of expansion with Innocence Projects being set up in universities across the country, it appears that these are now being encouraged to close. There are a host of reasons why Innocence Projects in the UK may be under threat (not least their position within univerisities whose priorites narrow ever further every day toward simply profit-making and rising up league tables.) They do not operate as a mirror to those in the US and internationally, largely because of the existence of the Criminal Cases Review Commission. However, their work is still invaluable. When I was Director of the University of Leeds Innocence Project, we received hundreds of letters (which still arrive weekly if not daily), reviewed dozens of cases, and assisted many prisoners. It also educated many students in the causes of, and remedies for, miscarriages of justice.  It gave many law students a passion for criminal legal aid work – where there is no money to be made and certainly no glory.

So – to read the announcement on the INUK website is all the more shocking. (see here… INUK – New Beginnings ). Where innocence work in the UK needs innovation, inspiration and support, it is being told that the day has come to pack our bags and go home. My thoughts are not only with those of us (staff and students alike) who have worked many years to get innocence taken seriously again in the UK, but those prisoners now who will be back at square one, with nowhere to turn yet again. How an ‘innocence network’ can survive, nevermind have any impact, with only one member, will remain to be seen.

Friday’s Quick Clicks…

Spotlight on Innocence Project South Africa


Cape Town -South Africans who have been convicted of crimes they didn’t commit may now be able to prove their innocence through a new project which relies on DNA testing.

In the US the Innocence Project has already helped scores of people, including some on death row, to be exonerated through the help of DNA technology. Now the Innocence Project South Africa will strive to do the same.

“It is far more important to release somebody from jail who isn’t guilty than to be putting people behind bars who are guilty,” said Professor Sean Davison, head of the forensic DNA laboratory at UWC.

“It’s a shocking crime against humanity to keep someone in jail who shouldn’t be.”

Davison is the co-founder of this project with Dr Andra le Roux, a lawyer based at Stellenbosch University.

He said that to date more than 300 people in the US had been exonerated through DNA technology. In more than half of the cases, the true perpetrator was identified.

“There have been so many cases of absolute innocence. By logic we deduced that there would be similar cases in South Africa. In fact, there will probably be more because South Africa doesn’t have a jury system.”

The project would look at cases where DNA had not been tested or where the DNA technology used at the time was inferior to current technology.

“The lab at UWC specialises in looking at highly degraded DNA, which could well be the case for DNA which has been stored for up to 15 years and may have been exposed to environmental damage before then.”

The project recently registered with the Innocence Network, the international umbrella body, and has already started getting applications from prisoners.

Davison said applications would be reviewed by a committee. Should they pass the initial screening, they would be asked to fill out a questionnaire providing further details.

“There then needs to be a search for biological evidence. We will need to obtain the detailed case docket and all the evidence related to the crime will have to be investigated.”

The team would have to work closely with the police, with whom meetings had already been held.

Flyers would be distributed in prisons to make inmates aware of the project.

Davison said that in the US the exonerations had exposed weaknesses in the criminal justice system such as false witness testimony, false confessions, and erroneous forensic science. But cases where biological evidence had been used to exonerate people were just the tip of the iceberg – many other innocent people would remain in jail because there was no biological evidence.

The project would rely on donor funding and prisoners would be helped on a pro bono basis.

Davison’s colleague, Professor Eugenia D’ Amato, said a prototype rape kit, developed by the UWC forensic DNA laboratory, was expected to be made available next year and would help to determine how many people were involved in cases in which a victim had been raped multiple times, and would help to exonerate the innocent.



Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

  • Innocence Project of South Africa now officially a member of the Innocence Network
  • In the UK, new law could limit compensation to exonerees who can conclusively prove innocence
  • Nearly 350 years after his execution, a french jew is exonerated and declared a martyr
  • Almost 70 years after a 14-year-old African American was executed in South Carolina following the slaying of two young white girls, family members asked a local judge on Tuesday to order a retrial and correct what they called a long-ago miscarriage of justice.  Continue reading….

Wrongfully Convicted Man Released After 10 Years in Washington State

Congratulations to Brandon Olebar and to the Innocence Project Northwest!

From the Seattle Times:

December 23, 2013 at 11:28 AM

Wrongly convicted King County man released after 10 years in prison

Posted by Mike Carter

A man who spent 10 years in prison for robbery and burglary has been released after the Innocence Project Northwest persuaded King County prosecutors to re-examine the man’s conviction, which was based solely on eyewitness testimony.

The case of Brandon Olebar came to the attention of the Innocence Project Northwest (IPNW),  based out of the clinical law program at the University of Washington Law School, in 2011. The project said two students “developed a body of evidence” that showed Olebar was not among the assailants who in February 2003 broke into the home of Olebar’s sister’s boyfriend, pistol-whipped and beat him unconscious and then stuffed him in a closet. The victim said as many as eight attackers beat him for more than 10 minutes, during which time he recognized Olebar’s sister as one of them. He told police the attackers had “feather” facial tattoos.

Two days after the beating, the victim identified Brandon Olebar from a photograph montage. Despite the fact that he does not have a facial tattoo and that he had an alibi, Olebar was charged with burglary and robbery, convicted by a King County jury solely on the basis of eyewitness testimony, and sentenced to 16 1/2 years in prison.

IPNW Director Jacqueline McMurtrie said two law students, Nikki Carsley and Kathleen Klineall, tracked down and interviewed three of the assailants, who signed sworn statements admitting their involvement and denying that Brandon Olebar was present. Working with IPN attorney Fernanda Torres, they presented the new evidence to Mark Larson, the chief criminal deputy prosecutor to King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg. Continue reading

Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

  • Innocence Project New Orleans is hosting a fundraiser featuring David Simon and the cast of HBO’s Treme, which shined light on flawed criminal justice system
  • The Minnesota Innocence Project and a Twin Cities law firm are digging for legal flaws that could free five men convicted of killing a co-worker in Green Bay 21 years ago. The five were convicted of killing Tom Monfils in 1992 at what was then the James River paper mill.  Monday night, almost four dozen people took part in an annual walk and rally for the defendants. Denis Gullickson told them that two attorneys from Minnesota are examining the case for free – as is the St. Paul-based equivalent of the Wisconsin Innocence Project, which has succeeded in freeing a number of high-profile inmates who were wrongly convicted.  More details
  • Diary of a UK Innocence Project Part 3:  Students, students everywhere and not a stop to think
  • Illinois hopes to stem wrongful convictions with new interrogation law

Tuesday’s Quick Clicks…


Friday’s Quick Clicks…

  • Texas moves one step closer to establishing an exoneration review commission
  • Kevin Curtis, the Elvis impersonator falsely accused of mailing letters laced with ricin to Barack Obama and U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, was released Tuesday night and gave an exclusive, and bizarre, interview to CNN’s Piers Morgan.
  • In Canada, man wrongfully convicted of rape sues government 43 years later
  • California Innocence Project supporters soon to begin their 600 mile walk for justice
  • Great DNA access decision by Kentucky Supreme Court
  • Spotlight on new West Virginia Innocence Project
  • The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has refused to hear en banc a 2012 decision affirming a grant of habeas corpus where the panel referenced scientific literature submitted by amicus curiae, The Innocence Project, on ways in which in-court identifications can be tainted by the facts of the crime, prior identification procedures and other factors.

Jeramie R. Davis Freed After Nearly 6 Years in Prison

Congratulations to Jeramie R. Davis and to the Innocence Project Northwest!

From Spokane, Washington (The Spokesman-Review):

A man who spent nearly six years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit had one request today after a judge set him free: a double cheeseburger from Zips.

Jeramie R. Davis, 42, also looked forward to bonding with his 5-year-old son, Elijah, who was born shortly after his arrest in 2007.

“He really doesn’t know who I am,” Davis said of his son. “I want to get to know him.

Today’s release ended years of investigations, a conviction, DNA tests, a second trial that convicted a different man and scores of legal arguments stemming from the June 17, 2007, bludgeoning death of 74-year-old porn shop owner John G. “Jack” Allen.

“I’m grateful,” Davis said of years of legal battles by defense attorneys Anna Tolin, Kevin Curtis and others who labored on his behalf. Continue reading

Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…


Friday’s Quick Clicks…


Innocence Project Northwest Fights for the Compensation Bill in Washington

From Seattle Weekly:

The Innocence Project Tries Again with Wrongly Convicted Compensation Bill

 By Matt Driscoll Wed., Feb. 6 2013 at 8:00 AM

As the saying goes, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

 Thwarted during the last two legislative sessions in an ongoing attempt to push a bill through that provides financial compensation for the wrongly convicted, the Innocence Project – with help from its local, University of Washington-affiliated chapter and sponsor Rep. Tina Orwall (D – Des Moines) – have gotten back on the horse, championing HB 1341. If passed the legislation would require the state to dole out payments to those who were unjustly convicted of a crime they didn’t commit.

The bill is scheduled for a House Judiciary Committee hearing Thursday, with advocates planning a rally at the Capital Building in Olympia to coincide with the event. But much like was the case in 2011 and 2012, the bill’s ultimate fate is likely tied to something far more straightforward than public support and rallies – how much it will cost. Continue reading

A Day in the Life of the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project

From source:

While a 1L, Susan Friedman learned of a critical National Academy of Sciences report on the strengths and weaknesses of forensic science in the courtroom. Susan, who came to law school with two science degrees (a Bachelor’s in Biochemistry and a Master’s in Biomedical Sciences) and a passion for public interest law, was in the market for something that would combine her science background with her interest in service. She wasted no time; at the beginning of her 2L year, she contacted the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project and ended up interning there throughout the rest of her time at law school. After law school, Susan was awarded an Equal Justice Works Fellowship to continue her work with forensic science reform and wrongful convictions at the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project.  

5:30 a.m. On days that I have to visit a client at the prison I wake up early. While some of the prisons I go to can be within an hour of my office, the one I drive to most often is two and a half hours away.

7:00 a.m. I’m out the door, buy a cup of coffee, and hit the road to make a 10 a.m. meeting with a client. Prisons are very particular about visiting hours, and I want to make sure I have enough time to meet with everyone I set up an appointment to see.

8:00 a.m. On non-visit days, I get to sleep in a little! But I try to leave the house by this time at the latest since the commute to my office takes about an hour.

9:00 a.m. On non-visit days, I arrive at the office and prepare for a case meeting with our legal staff and case investigator. During case meetings, we discuss issues we are dealing with in the cases we’re investigating, and provide updates to each other on our own cases. The Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project serves Maryland, DC and Virginia, and I focus on the Maryland cases; regular communication is essential since we handle so many cases.

10:00 a.m. On visit days, I meet with my client at the prison. I update him on the status of his case: how the investigation is going, the documents we need and witnesses we’re looking for, what I’m working on and what to expect next. Because innocence cases take so many years to sort out, it’s common for lawyers working on these types of cases to develop a close relationship with the client’s family, and often I will communicate with the family before and after the client visit as well.

Because the prison is so far away, I try to schedule meetings with three or four indivduals in the same day, if I have time. Sometimes I need to interview a witness there for another case I’m working on or talk to a defendant whose case the Project is considering accepting. When I interview a witness, I’ll bring legal interns from the Project along with me, not just because it’s a great learning experience for them, but also because it’s a good idea for me to have my own witness to my interview with the case witness.

12:30 p.m. Multitask while eating lunch—check my e-mails, return phone calls. On non-visit days, case meetings usually go until lunchtime. If the investigator is in the office that day, he and I may also meet during this time. He might give me an update on a witness he’s spoken with, and I might request him to see a certain witness or track down some documents for me.

1:00 p.m. On visit days, I always leave by this time because the prison follows its own tight schedule for inmates. If I’m by myself, I’ll grab a quick lunch before beginning the long drive back. If I’m with interns, we’ll go out to lunch together and debrief. I’ll answer any questions they may have, ask what their impressions were and if they have any ideas or strategies for dealing with the case.

2:00 p.m. Spend time writing a petition for a Writ of Actual Innocence for a client or work on my judicial forensic science training manual. I do a lot of writing when I’m in the office. As part of my fellowship, I’m writing a manual that is primarily for judges, but I anticipate it to be useful for all stakeholders on how forensic science and the law interact in the criminal justice system. A big part of my fellowship is litigating cases where there has been a misuse of forensic science. My cases involve non-DNA evidence such as microscopic hair analysis, firearm mark analysis and gunshot residue. While forensic science is a valuable tool, it has gone unchallenged for a long time, and not been held to the same standards as other scientific disciplines. My manual is designed to make science a little less scary for judges and stakeholders and to encourage them to really analyze the science and expert testimony, challenge it if necessary, and hold it to rigorous evidentiary standards.

When I’m not writing, I often hold conference calls with experts and co-counsel in my cases. The Project co-counsels on most cases with law firms in the area, so I often have calls with other attorneys who work on cases with me. After I’m done with phone calls, I take the afternoon to look into any cases that I was assigned during case meeting. Usually, the case has forensic science issues, so I focus on the expert testimony, look at the facts, and try to determine if the forensic science testimony is credible or if the case needs further investigation.

4:00 p.m. On visit days, I get back to the office. I like to record the events of the day while the details are fresh in my mind. Afterwards, I want to see what I’ve missed being out of the office all day, and hope that documents from police departments or crime labs arrived.

7:00 p.m. Head home for the night. Whether I spent most of my time in the office or out, it’s the end to a long, rewarding day! My clients are incredibly strong, inspiring people who motivate me to work hard every day.


Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…


Thursday’s Quick Clicks…


Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

  • clickThe new West Virginia Innocence Project helps an exoneree clear his name from the sex offender registry
  • Irish barrister shadows Duke Innocence Project
  • Story on the documentary West of Memphis
  • Don’t let the Florida Innocence Commission die

Update with the Wits Justice Project in South Africa…


I am cutting and pasting below an email from the Wits Justice Project in South Africa.  I had the pleasure of visiting these folks about 2 years ago.  They are a first-class organization.

The Wits Justice Project team – Nooshin, Carolyn, Gift, Grethe, Robyn, Ruth and Tshepang – would like to thank you for your support and encouragement in 2012 and wish you a restful and safe holiday and festive season and a very successful 2013.

We have had a tremendously exciting year and would like to share some of the highlights with you:

a. Journalism

  • WJP won the Webber Wentzel Legal Journalist of the Year award for the second year in a row. Senior journalist, Ruth Hopkins, won first prize and our other senior journalist, Carolyn Raphaely, was first runner-up for her articles on torture. Carolyn won this prestigious award last year, in 2011.

The articles for which Ruth won her award were in two categories. The first looks at the scourge of TB in our prisons and how it has affected both the inmates and their families.

1. “Sisters probe TB scourge in prison” appeared in the Mail & Guardian and

2. “SA prisons: hotbed for spread of TB inside and outside” which appeared in the Saturday Star.

The second category was the systemic failures which cause unreasonable delays in finalizing cases.

1. “Incarcerated since 2007 – but trial hasn’t progressed” which appeared in The Star, show the consequences of court delays,

2. “Who is watching the lawyers?” (with Grethe Koen) which appeared in the Saturday Star.

b. Advocacy

  • WJP project coordinator, Nooshin, was asked to speak at various conferences on issues affecting remand detainees and other matters affecting the criminal justice system . This included the “Helen Suzman Foundation Quarterly Roundtable on Remand Continue reading

Spotlight on Oklahoma Innocence Project


A law clinic operating out of Oklahoma City University is on a mission to balance the scales for the state’s wrongfully convicted. The Oklahoma City Innocence Project is new to the state but they are just one cog in an older nationwide wheel meant to curb the mistakes of the justice system. But what does it take to prove someone innocent and how do they end up in prison?

“It is stressful at times because you realize that a person’s life is in your hands. That is truly daunting.”

How do you have that conviction to keep on being on call?

“Because I know what its like watching someone spend their life in prison for something they didn’t do. And it continues to happen.”

Professor Tiffany Murphy is head of the Oklahoma Innocence Project that just opened in August of last year. She’s on call 24 hours a day through the entire year mostly because her staff is just her and…

“…a staff attorney, a legal assistant, and along with clinical students from the law school.”

Right now that’s three students from OCU and the legal team tackles as many cases as they can handle.

“The project has had over 500 cases come through its doors. At any given time we have about 80 to 100 cases waiting in line to be reviewed and 12 -16 cases being actively worked up.”

500 cases? Can all of these people be innocent? Probably not, but Tiffany doesn’t take clients at just their word. Her team only focuses on a case if innocence can be proved.

“The cases that I’m working on are certainly very valid cases to be reviewed.”

Dan Grothaus is a private investigator Tiffany uses on occasion. He’s worked innocence cases before and has no illusions about a 100% accurate justice system.

“I think every community should make sure, if they’ve got someone locked up in prison for the rest of their life. They really should want to make sure they’ve got Continue reading

California Innocence Project to March from San Diego to Sacramento…


On April 27, 2013, the California Innocence Project and their supporters will march from San Diego to Sacramento to deliver something very important: clemency petitions for their clients that are innocent but remain incarcerated. The petition on started today and has already reached almost 9,000 signatures. They are hoping to get at least 120,000 signatures before the march in April. This is the amount they were able to get for Daniel Larson several months ago.

The 12 individuals they are marching for are called the California 12; 12 individuals that have been found innocent but yet remain in prison.

The walk will take almost two months, with planned stops along the way. The daily walks range between 7.5 miles and 23.6 miles. There are also Rally Days planned along the way. The public is invited to walk with CIP, specifically for 3 different days: April 27, 2013 from the San Diego Courthouse to Ocean Beach, May 7, 2013 from Manhattan Beach to Santa Monica, and Jun 14, 2013 from Berkeley to Walnut Creek. The petitions will be delivered to Governor Jerry Brown’s mansion on June 20, 2013.

The California 12 are:

To show support for the CIP and for the California 12, please consider purchasing CIP productsdonating $12 in 2012, and by signing the petition.

To learn more about how wrongful convictions happen, please see the review of False Justice.



Tuesday’s Quick Clicks…