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Record-Breaking $15M Gift to Benefit the Ohio Innocence Project at Cincinnati Law


Richard Rosenthal’s $15M Gift is the Largest for the College and Any Innocence Program

Dick Rosenthal_Ricky JacksonCINCINNATI - September 13, 2016 – A $15 million gift from long-time Cincinnati benefactor Richard “Dick” Rosenthal to the University of Cincinnati College of Law will help free countless wrongfully convicted individuals. The Ohio Innocence Project (OIP) at UC’s Lois and Richard Rosenthal Institute for Justice at the College of Law will use the generous gift – the largest ever for the college and any innocence program – to provide for the program in perpetuity.

“The Ohio Innocence Project has a laudable mission: to free every innocent person in Ohio. I’m proud to help ensure its life-saving work continues now and forever,” Rosenthal said. “Thank you to everyone who has helped make the OIP so successful in its mission – I’m inspired daily by the students, faculty and staff who work tirelessly in the pursuit of justice.”

“The University of Cincinnati is proud to be home to the world-class Ohio Innocence Project, where students work side-by-side with professionals to help free the innocent. Donors like Dick Rosenthal make this life-changing work possible, and we can’t thank him enough,” said UC Interim President Beverly J. Davenport.

Rosenthal’s investment will boost recruitment of top students and faculty, both nationally and internationally, and support vital programming at the OIP. In recognition of the monumental gift, the law school will add three Lois and Richard Rosenthal Clinical Professors of Law. Students will be identified as Rosenthal Student Fellows. Finally, the OIP will occupy custom-designed, named space in the new building with upgraded work spaces, offices and technology.

“The University of Cincinnati College of Law is deeply grateful to Mr. Rosenthal for his longstanding support of our faculty, staff and students who do such wonderful work addressing the injustice of wrongful convictions. This gift is the largest the law school has ever received,” said Jennifer S. Bard, Dean and Nippert Professor of Law at the UC College of Law. “The Ohio Innocence Project is an important component of our experiential, ‘learn by doing’ curriculum and by training the next generation of prosecutors, defense attorneys, legislators, and judges is already advancing one of our nation’s core Constitutional protections: the right to a fair trial.”

Founded in 2003, the OIP is Ohio’s only law school-based innocence organization dedicated to freeing innocent people in prison and preventing wrongful convictions. To date, the program has freed 24 people who combined served nearly 450 years in prison for crimes they did not commit.

“Student idealism and passion is the lifeblood of the OIP. The energy of our students gives us an advantage over other legal organizations, but it’s our generous donors who make their work possible,” said OIP Director Mark Godsey. “Thank you Dick Rosenthal for providing much more than financial support of the OIP. When John Cranley and I founded the organization, we were just a couple of young lawyers, but Lois and Dick knew how to build institutions. They had a vision, and helped teach John and me how to take our ideas and passion to the next level. From event planning, to public awareness, to fundraising, Lois and Dick taught us how to build a top-notch organization.”

“The Ohio Innocence Project has quickly become a national model for innocence organizations, and it has taken a leading role in expanding the movement internationally, assisting the startup of new programs across the globe,” said Barry Scheck, co-founder and director of the New York City-based Innocence Project. “Thank you to Dick Rosenthal for your incredible support of the innocent.”

Each year, about 20 students spend a full year working on cases, digging through files, interviewing witnesses, writing case briefs and applying their knowledge of forensic techniques like DNA testing. Through hands-on learning, they discover how to build a case and what can make a case go wrong, resulting in a tragic injustice.

“The incredible success of UC’s Ohio Innocence Project has been made possible through the vision and generosity of Dick Rosenthal,” said UC Foundation President Rodney Grabowski. “He has helped provide a life-changing service to our community and freed 24 individuals from wrongful imprisonment. We are forever grateful.”

In 2004, Dick and his late wife, Lois, gave $1 million to create and endow the Lois and Richard Rosenthal Institute for Justice. The primary component of the Institute is the OIP, which ultimately aims to free every innocent person in Ohio.

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About the University of Cincinnati College of Law

As the fourth oldest continuously operating law school in the country, UC’s College of Law has a rich history of educating and inspiring leaders who pursue justice and advance the role of law in society. Its ranks include many distinguished alumni including a U.S. president, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and six governors. The college cultivates an intimate learning experience with an 8.6:1 student to faculty ratio and offers a wealth of resources such as more than 40 student organizations, five journals and seven centers and institutes. For more information, please visit law.uc.edu.

About the University of Cincinnati Foundation

Established in 1975, the University of Cincinnati Foundation is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit corporation and is the private sector fundraising entity for the University of Cincinnati and UC Health. The foundation supports UC’s aspirations through philanthropic collaboration with the colleges, the Academic Health Center, UC Health and other units to maximize private support. The foundation’s advancement efforts promote the development of productive, enduring relationships with alumni, friends, colleagues, students, foundations, corporations and the Greater Cincinnati community. For more information, please visit uc.edu/foundation.

Center for Race, Gender, and Social Justice Receives University’s Marian Spencer Diversity Award


Cincinnati Law’s Center for Race, Gender, and Social Justice was honored for its programming and efforts to prepare students to take the lead in advancing justice.
Spencer Diversity AwardCincinnati, OH—The university awarded the College’s Center for Race, Gender, and Social Justice the 2016 University of Cincinnati Marian Spencer Diversity Ambassador Award at the 8th Annual Diversity & Inclusion Conference. The Center, identified as an ambassador for diversity and inclusion, was honored for its impactful programming and efforts to prepare the next generation of attorneys to thrive in a diverse, global workforce.

The Center, formed six years ago, is co-directed by Emily Houh, the Gustavus Henry Wald Professor of the Law and Contracts; Kristin Kalsem, the Charles Hartsock Professor of Law; and Verna Williams, the Judge Joseph P. Kinneary Professor of Law.

“Receiving the Marian Spencer Award is humbling, given its namesake’s heroic efforts for social justice in Cincinnati. It inspires us to work even hard,” Professor Williams said. Center co-director Professor Kalsem concurred. "It was wonderful to receive this recognition for just doing the everyday work of the Center. The Marian Spencer Diversity Ambassador Award honors the kind of programming and initiatives that are the very mission of our Center."

The Center’s mission is to cultivate scholars, leaders, and activists for social change. To that end, it has three pillars: the Joint Degree JD/MA in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, the first of its kind in the nation; the Freedom Center Journal, a joint scholarly publication of the College and the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, which examines issues of gender, sexuality, race, and class; the Domestic Violence and Civil Protection Order Clinic, a legal laboratory where students receive extensive training in the laws surrounding domestic violence and trial advocacy, while assisting battered women and their families; and its new community-based research arm. Through these program areas, the Center has been able to make an impact on a broad and long-lasting scale. An example of their efforts was advocating for Cincinnati City Council to pass a resolution declaring freedom from domestic violence a fundamental human right, the first such resolution passed in the country. In addition, it has hosted a variety of programming exploring a range of cutting edge issues: economic justice, domestic violence, civil rights and policing, hate crimes, philanthropy and women’s movements, same-sex marriage, fair housing, and social justice feminism, among many others.

About the Award
The Marian Spencer Diversity Ambassador Award, sponsored by the university’s Diversity Council, showcases current campus affiliated individuals and groups whose diversity initiatives have positively impacted the university. Recipients must meet one of several criteria: showing an awareness for diversity, exhibiting sensitivity to people of various cultures, helping colleagues/peers grow in the area of diversity, and preparing others to thrive in a diverse, global workforce. The award was named after UC alumna and activist Marian Spencer.

Man Regains Freedom After 23 Years Thanks to OIP


In February 1981, the Parsons family suffered a tragic loss. Barbara Parsons, the 41-year-old wife of Jim Parsons, was found dead inside her bedroom, having been beaten 15 times in the head by someone using a large, heavy object. No suspect was found at first. Then, 12 years later, Jim Parsons was arrested for the murder. Parsons was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison. After 23 years incarcerated, however, his conviction was overturned thanks to the Ohio Innocence Program (OIP).

"The Ohio Innocence Project plays an important role in the legal education of all of our students. Not only do the students who directly represent the clients with Professor Mark Godsey and the staff attorneys learn valuable litigation skills, all of our students benefit from its commitment to justice and the rule of law that are at the heart of the U.S. Legal system,” says Cincinnati Law’s Dean Jennifer S. Bard, Nippert Professor of Law.

Parsons was recently released and is now living with family. His story, however, is a frightening one.

An Unfair Advantage
Immediately after Barbara Parsons’ murder, an investigation began. A just hour after the body was found at their Norwalk, OH home, Jim Parsons was with the police; he showed no signs of a struggle and his alibi was solid. The case went cold after it became obvious that he was not the criminal.

Years later, a new detective was assigned to the case and sent the suspected murder weapon and bed sheets to forensic scientist Michele Yezzo, who worked on the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation, asking her to look for any matching patterns of blood.

While running these tests, Yezzo failed to fully document her procedures. She used a chemical on the sheets which she claimed makes blood stains easier to see. However, it fades after several hours and she neglected to photograph each piece of evidence. Yezzo said she found matching patterns between the weapon and the sheets, but due to lack of documentation, she is the only one who ever saw it.

Even so, the court ruled against Parsons. He was found guilty and was sent to jail.

What the defense did not know at the time was that the State was withholding information. Around the same time that she was testifying, Yezzo was under severe job pressure. A few months prior to her testimony against Mr. Parsons, she was suspended from work for making threats against co-workers. She also displayed other signs that called her mental stability into question.

“About three years before she testified against Parsons,” said Parsons’ OIP attorney Donald Caster, ’03, “there was a memo that was written by her supervisor that said the consensus in the lab is that her mental health issues are affecting her work in the lab and that she would stretch the truth to satisfy a law enforcement agency.”

When Caster found that information, he placed a call to Dr. Scott Bresler, Clinical Director of Forensic Psychiatry at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center.

Bresler, who routinely conducts fitness-for-duty evaluations, evaluated Yezzo’s likely mental state at the time of the trial and through this determined her ability to work should have been called into question long before the Parsons trial.

The law requires that the State must turn over everything that could help a defendant before trial. Withholding this information about Yezzo was breaking the law, resulting in an unfair trial. Twenty-three years later, Jim Parsons finally got the hearing he deserved.

“Our star witness, whose subjective judgements are entirely what the case is about, is perhaps mentally unstable. And not only that, when we brought her in and she testified at the hearing in the Parsons’ case, she agreed that every day she was coming in thinking that she was going to be disciplined for her erratic conduct,” Caster said. “So what better way for a forensic scientist to help save their job than to solve a cold murder case?”

Alex Barengo, ’17, an OIP Fellow who worked on the case, seconded this reasoning. He stated that the prosecution was “riddled with reasonable doubts” due to the late arrest of Mr. Parsons and Yezzo’s precarious position with her employer.

Fighting for Freedom
OIP investigations can take years to complete, and often the fellows working on the cases pass them down to others. In fact, Parsons’ case spanned ten years, 21 law students, and predated Caster’s time with the OIP.

Former OIP Fellow Jackie Welp, ’16, said this was the most frustrating aspect. “He is and was very sick and growing older as the process continued,” she said, recalling how slow the procedure sometimes moved. “It was very challenging to stay upbeat when it seemed like the testing would never be done.”

Barengo gave credit to the previous fellows, saying that the investigation of the case was already completed and he and his partner, Miranda Anandappa, ’17, had the responsibility of making sure everything was in place so nothing would go wrong in court.

After all the information was gathered, Caster filed for post-conviction relief and a new trial motion, telling the judge that Mr. Parsons was actually innocent and his trial was made unfair by the withholding of evidence by the state of Ohio.

The hearing, which lasted about a day, included testimony from witnesses, scientists, one of Mr. Parsons’ daughters, and several people from the State. A week later, Caster learned that the judge had ruled to overturn the verdict.

“The most rewarding part came a few weeks after the hearing up in Huron County,” Barengo expressed. “One of Mr. Parsons’ daughters sent us a picture of him at home with his family.”

Author: Michelle Flanagan ’18, Communication Intern

Center for Race, Gender, and Social Justice Receives University’s Marian Spencer Diversity Award


Cincinnati, OH—The University awarded the College of Law’s Center for Race, Gender, and Social Justice at Cincinnati Law the 2016 University of Cincinnati Marian Spencer Diversity Ambassador Award at the 8th Annual Diversity & Inclusion Conference.

Members of the Center

The Center, identified as an ambassador for diversity and inclusion, was honored for its impactful programming and efforts to prepare the next generation of attorneys to thrive in a diverse, global workforce. Co-directed by Emily Houh, Gustavus Henry Wald Professor of the Law and Contracts; Kristin Kalsem, Charles Hartsock Professor of Law; and Verna Williams, Judge Joseph P. Kinneary Professor of Law, the Center was formed six years ago.“Receiving the Spencer Award is humbling, given its namesake’s heroic efforts for social justice in Cincinnati. It inspires us to work even hard,” said Co-Director Williams.

The Center’s mission is to cultivate scholars, leaders, and activists for social change. To that end, it has three pillars: the Joint Degree JD/MA in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, the first of its kind in the nation; the Freedom Center Journal, a joint scholarly publication of the College and the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, which examines issues of gender, sexuality, race, and class; the Domestic Violence and Civil Protection Order Clinic, a legal laboratory where students receive extensive training in the laws surrounding domestic violence and trial advocacy, while assisting battered women and their families; and its new community-based research arm. Through these program areas, the Center has been able to make an impact on a broad and long-lasting scale. An example of their efforts was advocating for Cincinnati City Council to pass a resolution declaring freedom from domestic violence a fundamental human right, the first such resolution passed in the country. In addition, it has hosted a variety of programming exploring a range of cutting edge issues: economic justice, domestic violence, civil rights and policing, hate crimes, philanthropy and women’s movements, same-sex marriage, fair housing, and social justice feminism, among many others.

About the Award
The Marian Spencer Diversity Ambassador Award, sponsored by the university’s Diversity Council, showcases current campus affiliated individuals and groups whose diversity initiatives have positively impacted the university. Recipients must meet one of several criteria: showing an awareness for diversity, exhibiting sensitivity to people of various cultures, helping colleagues/peers grow in the area of diversity, and preparing others to thrive in a diverse, global workforce. The award was named after UC alumna and activist Marian Spencer.

OIP Receives Spirit of America Award


OIP AwardCongratulations to the Ohio Innocence Project (OIP), honored with the Donald and Marian Spencer Spirit of America Award on Tuesday, May 10, 2016. The award, which was presented by the Cincinnatus Association, recognizes the OIP’s contributions to creating greater inclusion and prompting diversity in the community.

The OIP was honored for its work in freeing more innocent people than any other state-based innocence organization in the country, as well as its work in drafting and helping to pass groundbreaking reform legislation to decrease the chance that innocence Ohioans will be wrongfully convicted in the future.

The Spirit of America award was named for Donald and Marian Spencer, called the “first couple of civil rights in Cincinnati.” Donald Spencer, who died several years ago, was the first African American to serve on the Cincinnati Park Board, the first African American broker on the Cincinnati Board of Realtors, and the first African American trustee of Ohio University. Marian Spencer integrated Coney Island many years ago, was the first African American president of the Woman’s City Club, and was the first African American woman to serve on Cincinnati City Council.

OIP Inaugural Breakfast A Success Thanks To Law Firm/Corporate Friends, Sponsors, and Supporters


The University of Cincinnati's Ohio Innocence Project would like to thank our Law Firm/Corporate Friends, Sponsors, and Supporters for a successful event!

On Tuesday, April 5, the Ohio Innocence Project Inaugural Breakfast saw more than 400 people in attendance. On behalf of the wrongfully convicted Ohio prisoners we have served and those we will continue to serve, we thank you! We are grateful to all of our sponsors. It is through their support that OIP can continue its meaningful work.

OIP Inaugural Breakfast Photo Gallery >>

 

Law Firm/Corporate Friends of OIP

Friends

Sponsors

OIP Sonsors

Supporters

 

Cors & Bassett LLC

Cuni, Ferguson & LeVay Co., LPA

Freking Myers & Reul LLC

Thompson Hine

Weaver Institute Celebrates Contributions of Founder, Dr. Glenn Weaver


The 2015-2016 Weaver Fellows; Jim Hunt and Valerie Hardcastle, co-directors of the Weaver Institute for Law and Psychiatry; and Dean Jennifer S. Bard joined the Glenn M. Weaver Foundation Trustees, headed by Ellen Weaver, for their annual dinner on November 19th.  Honoring the life and contributions of Dr. Glenn Weaver, the event also celebrated the on-going legacy of Dr. Weaver in the Weaver Institute for Law and Psychiatry and the activities of the Weaver fellows, both in the community and on campus.

 

 

Conference on Predatory Lending Noted in National Newsletter


“Dodging the Debt Trap,” the conference hosted recently by the Center for Race, Gender, and Social Justice, was mentioned in a newsletter from Americans for Financial Reform, a nonpartisan and nonprofit coalition of 200+n civil rights, consumer, labor, business, investor, faith-based, and civic and community groups. AFR has been called “the leading voice for Wall Street accountability in Washington (Huffington Post). 

OIP Attorney Jennifer Bergeron on WOSU Radio


On November 16, 2015, “All Sides with Ann Fisher” on WOSU, discussing the Plight of the Wrongfully Convicted, featured an interview of OIP staff attorney Jennifer Bergeron. You can listen to the podcast online.