OIP Breakfast Raises Over $150K to Help Wrongly Convicted Persons
Cincinnati, OH— The Ohio Innocence Project (OIP) at Cincinnati Law raised over $153,570 at its third Annual Breakfast April 19, featuring stories of innocent persons who still would be incarcerated, were it not for OIP.
“The extreme generosity of this community allows us to have a tremendous impact,” said Verna L. Williams, Interim Dean and Nippert Professor of Law at Cincinnati Law. “OIP demonstrates how a law school can make strides for justice, while providing a transformational experience for students. Whether they choose careers focusing on social justice or corporate law, our law students learn valuable lessons about persevering in the face of unimaginable injustice, committing to excellence in client service, among other things, that will make them outstanding attorneys.”
The centerpiece of this year’s event was the premiere of the newest OIP video, which featured persons freed by OIP since its founding in 2003. Viewers heard about their struggles to remain whole while wrongly incarcerated and their joys upon finally being released. At the end of the video, the OIP’s most recent exonerees Ru-El Sailor (freed several weeks ago after 15 years in prison) and Evin King (exonerated in 2017 after 23 years in prison), joined other exonerees on the stage to celebrate OIP’s success in freeing 26 people.
“The 26 exonerees are a direct reflection of the gifts and support of our donors,” said Mindy Roy, Assistant Director of Development at Cincinnati Law. “We are so grateful for their commitment to OIP.”
Co-chairs for this year’s breakfast were Anne DeLyons and Jennie Rosenthal Berliant, members of the OIP Board of Advocates. Event sponsors included the following: 19/19 Investment Counsel; Barbara J. Howard Co., L.P.A.; Blank Rome LLP; Dinsmore & Shohl, LLP; Helmer, Martins, Rice & Popham Co, L.P.A.; Katz Teller; Loevy & Loevy; Murray & Agnes Seasongood Foundation; Porter Wright Morris & Arthur LLP / The Estabrook Trust; Rittgers & Rittgers; White Getgey Meyer Co., L.P.A.; Bahl & Gaynor; Candace Crouse and Martin Pinales; Frost Brown Todd LLC; Gerhardstein & Branch Co., LPA; John D. Smith Co., LPA,; The Spahr Foundation; and Squire Patton Boggs.
About Cincinnati Law
As the fourth oldest continuously operating law school in the country, Cincinnati Law has a rich history. Its distinguished alumni include a U.S. president, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and six governors. The College cultivates an intimate learning experience with a 9:1 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 www.law.uc.edu.
Cincinnati Law, KMK Law Launch First Law School Diversity Case Competition
Cincinnati, OH (April 9, 2018)—The Center for Professional Development at the University of Cincinnati College of Law and Cincinnati law firm Keating Muething & Klekamp PLL have partnered to create the first ever Diversity Case Competition for minority law students. The competition, targeted for law students in the Greater Cincinnati region, will be held in early 2019.
“This competition is likely the first of its kind in the law school arena and promises to become the gold standard for inclusion activities in the legal career space,” said Mina Jones Jefferson, Associate Dean, Chief of Staff, and Director of the Center for Professional Development (CPD) at the University of Cincinnati College of Law. “We’re excited to a part of this innovative initiative and look forward to seeing its growth for years to come.”
Jefferson first pitched the idea to KMK Law because the firm was seeking a creative way to recruit diverse legal talent. As one of the key players in the legal talent field and a former president of the National Association for Law Placement (NALP), Jefferson remains on the forefront of the industry.
This inaugural competition will provide a premier learning experience through a challenging case competition. In addition, participants will have opportunities to network and connect with legal and non-legal professionals from around the Greater Cincinnati area. The program will include students from the following law schools: University of Cincinnati College of Law, University of Dayton School of Law, the University of Northern Kentucky Salmon P. Chase College of Law, The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, and the University of Kentucky College of Law. Additional information about the program will be available in Fall 2018.
“Becoming a truly diverse and inclusive law firm is a journey,” said Bethany P. Recht, KMK Partner and Chair of the Diversity & Inclusion Committee. “We hope that this program will not only reflect KMK’s ongoing commitment to the journey, but also support the growth of diversity in the legal profession.”
About the University of Cincinnati College of Law
As the fourth oldest continuously operating law school in the country and a top 35 public law school as ranked by US News & World Report, UC’s College of Law has a rich history. Its distinguished alumni include a U.S. president, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and six governors. The College cultivates an intimate learning experience with a 9:1 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 www.law.uc.edu.
The Power of Storytelling: The Ohio Innocence Project, Cincinnati Opera Collaboration Brings Exonerees' Stories to Life
The Ohio Innocence Project and Cincinnati Opera’s new venture brings to the stage the experiences of the wrongfully convicted in a unique form—an opera—to debut in 2019.
Cincinnati, OH—The Ohio Innocence Project (OIP) at the University of Cincinnati College of Law, Cincinnati Opera, and the Young Professionals Choral Collective (YPCC) announce the creation of a contemporary opera, Blind Injustice. The opera is based on Cincinnati Law Professor Mark Godsey’s book by same name and interviews with six OIP exonerees. Blind Injustice will bring to life the grace, perseverance and forgiveness of these incredible men and women. Premiering during the 2019 opera season, this is the first collaboration of its kind. The opera will be composed by William Menefield to a libretto by David Cote. CCM Professor Robin Guarino will act as stage director and dramaturg.
“The stories of these six exonerees are powerful tales of perseverance and forgiveness after going through an ordeal most of us can’t even imagine,” says Mark Godsey, OIP Director. “Although the stories are inspirational in their own right, the music exponentially magnifies their emotional impact. So we are incredibly excited that the public will get to learn more about Ricky Jackson, Clarence Elkins, Nancy Smith, and the East Cleveland 3 in such a compelling, moving way. These individuals are heroes, bringing them to stage and sharing them with the public in this medium is the right thing to do. We feel incredibly lucky to be working with the Opera and YPCC on this important project.”
“Blind Injustice is a story about survival and dignity and asks the question: How could our criminal justice system allow six innocent people be wrongfully accused and convicted?” says Robin Guarino, stage director and dramaturg for the opera. “It is an honor to tell their story and to work with my creative team of David Cote, librettist; William Menefield, composer; Mark Godsey, author; the OIP; the YPCC; and Cincinnati Opera on this groundbreaking project."
Interim Dean of the Cincinnati Law School, Verna Williams, says, “This extraordinary collaboration sheds light on the tragedy of wrongful convictions plaguing our criminal justice system. Even more, it will demonstrate the grace of the exonerees enduring unimaginable hardship, the steadfastness of OIP working for their freedom, and the transformative power of this project for all involved. We are thrilled to be part of this creative exercise in social justice.”
“Cincinnati Opera is looking for innovative ways to collaborate with nontraditional partner organizations in an authentic way, to tell current stories of societal importance,” said Marcus Küchle, director of artistic operations and new works development at Cincinnati Opera. “We are keenly interested in breaking through the stereotypes of what opera is in the 21st century, and this project is a perfect example of the type of new works Cincinnati Opera will pursue in future seasons.”
The Birth of Blind Injustice, the Opera
Blind Injustice is the result of a three-part collaboration between the OIP, the Young Professionals Choral Collective (YPCC), and Cincinnati Opera. The OIP’s young professionals group, which focuses on building awareness about the OIP, reached out to the YPCC, an 800-member amateur chorus, in hopes of hosting a joint event. Once the parties started talking, they realized the impact that a joint performance piece could have. Soon thereafter, the Cincinnati Opera team joined the conversations, resulting in the conception of a one-of-a-kind musical performance. This unique artistic team hopes that sharing the real-life case stories of exonerees will bring greater understanding and empathy to the work of the OIP and other innocence organizations, as well as create opportunities for broader conversations about wrongful conviction in the United States.
About the Opera
The opera will focus on the life and experiences of these OIP exonerees:
- Ricky Jackson: He spent nearly 40 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit—murdering a money-order collector. Mr. Jackson was sentenced to death; it is now known that the conviction was based on a lie of a then-12-year-old boy. At the time of his release, Mr. Jackson set the record for the longest-serving person to be exonerated in U.S. history.
- East Cleveland 3: Derrick Wheatt, Laurese Glover, and Eugene Johnson were wrongly incarcerated for 20 years. They were released after a key eyewitness recanted her testimony and after the revelation that information from police reports demonstrating their innocence had not been disclosed decades earlier.
- Clarence Elkins: He spent seven and a half years in prison for a murder and rape he did not commit. Through DNA testing, Mr. Elkins was found innocent and the real perpetrator was caught; and
- Nancy Smith: A former bus driver, she served 15 years in prison for allegedly molesting small children in her care. After being proven innocent and released, Ms. Smith’s case received national attention, including being featured on a one-hour episode of Dateline NBC.
In addition, the OIP will be represented through two characters. One will be a composite character representing Mark Godsey earlier in his career as a prosecutor and now as an innocence lawyer; the other will be a fictional OIP law student, representing all of the OIP law students who worked to free these individuals through the years.
“The unique thing about this format is that it allows us to share the story of wrongful conviction and exoneree experiences to a broad audience,” says Godsey. “These may be people whose only experience with wrongful conviction is through a television program. Now, they’ll be able to hear directly from the exonerees. They’ll share their painful stories and how they survived and overcame despite what happened to them. We know that once you hear their stories, your heart will be touched.”
Participants in the project include a variety of individuals:
- From Cincinnati Opera: Marcus Küchle, Director of Artistic Operation and New Works Development and Co-Artistic Director of Opera Fusion: New Works
- From the University of Cincinnati: Mark Godsey, the Daniel L. and Judith L. Carmichael Professor of Law and Director, OIP; Professor Robin Guarino, the J. Ralph Corbett Distinguished Chair in Opera, CCM, director and dramaturg for the opera.
- Others: William Menefield, composer; David Cote, librettist and journalist; KellyAnn Nelson, Artistic Director, YPCC.
In addition to the operatic performance piece, Blind Injustice will include opportunities for community involvement. More information will be shared as plans are completed.
Read the story in the Cincinnati Enquirer (12/8): Innocence Project Leader's Book at Heart of Cincinnati Opera's New Work
Ohio Innocence Project Awarded Grants Totaling $265,000 to Fund Forensic Research Project and Expand its Efforts
Cincinnati, OH—The University of Cincinnati College of Law’s Ohio Innocence Project (OIP) has received two grants that will enhance its important work in the state. Together, the grants total $265,051.
The Department of Justice awarded the OIP $205, 051 for its proposed Forensic Review Project, which will examine 300-400 cases of retired Ohio forensic scientist Michelle Yezzo to determine whether she manufactured bogus or exaggerated test results to obtain convictions. If OIP identifies problematic cases, it will litigate them jointly with the Ohio Public Defenders office in hopes of freeing additional wrongfully-convicted persons. The grant enables OIP to hire a forensic science review attorney to analyze decades of case work; all work will be supervised by Assistant Clinical Professor Donald Caster, and OIP Director Mark Godsey.
Awarding such a significant grant for reviewing convictions is not standard practice for the Department of Justice. According to Godsey, DOJ funded only two additional grants of this nature this year, making OIP’s selection even more noteworthy. “We are honored that the Department of Justice demonstrated this level of faith in our organization. It is a testament to the hard work of so many students, staff, lawyers, donors--everyone who has made OIP what it is today,” said Godsey.
Studies of the incarceration of innocent individuals estimate that between 2.3% and 5% of all prisoners in the United States are innocent. Amazingly, if just 1% of all prisoners are innocent, then over 20,000 innocent people are in prison.
OIP is one of the most well-known, recognized and successful innocence organizations in the nation. Through the efforts of OIP attorneys, staff and hundreds of clinic student fellows, 25 individuals have obtained their freedom on grounds of innocence to date. Cumulatively, they have served more than 471 years in prison.
The Forensic Review Project has a disturbing background, resulting from OIP’s work on the James Parsons case. Parsons, an exoneree, spent 22 years in prison for the murder of his wife. In the midst of the investigation, the OIP discovered that Yezzo, a lab technician with Ohio’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI), had produced very questionable, if not false, lab results which led to Parsons’s wrongful conviction.
The OIP will be working in conjunction with the OPD and the BCI to review these cases. “It is wonderful that Ohio’s BCI, where Yezzo worked, has been open in sharing her case files with us. Attorney General Mike DeWine should be credited, too,” said Godsey. “After something like this happens, the last thing you want is government officials trying to hide things and prevent further examination. The citizens of Ohio should appreciate the reactions of BCI and the Attorney General’s office in this matter.”
OIP Continues to Expand Efforts with Estabrook Charitable Trust Pledge
In addition to the DOJ grant, the OIP recognizes and thanks the Hubert A. & Gladys C. Estabrook Trust, long-time supporters of the OIP. Since 2001, the Hubert A. & Gladys C. Estabrook Trust has given or pledged $265,000 to the organization. This includes their most recent pledge of $60,000. “I want to thank the Estabrook Charitable Trust through Porter Wright Morris & Arthur LLC for their tremendous generosity over the years,” said Godsey. “It is because of the continued support of donors like you that the OIP can continue to expand its efforts to help the wrongfully convicted.” These funds have been underwritten in part by Porter Wright Morris & Arthur LLC by means of a grant from the Estabrook Charitable Trust.
Professors and OIP Attorneys Donald Caster and Brian Howe's article, "Taking a Mulligan: The Special Challenges of Narrative Creation in the Post-Conviction Context" was published in print in 76 Md. L. Rev. 770 (2017).
Evin King Released as OIP Celebrates #25
After maintaining his innocence for 23 years, Evin King was released due to the hard work, dedication and efforts of the Ohio Innocence Project.
Cincinnati, OH—Yesterday, April 19, 2017 the Ohio Innocence Project (OIP) team watched a now-familiar scene playout as its client Evin King was released at the Cuyahoga County Courthouse by Judge Brian Corrigan. In 1995 King was convicted of murdering his girlfriend despite no direct evidence of guilt, such as an eyewitness account or forensic evidence. Now, 23 years later, he is a free man. King and the OIP’s other 24 freed clients have together spent more than 470 years in prison for crimes they did not commit.
Cincinnati Law’s Assistant Clinical Professor Jennifer Bergeron said "Mr. King was wrongfully convicted, and never gave up hope. It's hard to wrap your mind around how agonizing it must have been the past many years to have proof that you are innocent, but the courts and prosecutors simply refuse to look at the case again. This victory is a testament to the character and will of Evin King."
A Look at His Journey
In 1994 King’s girlfriend, Crystal Hudson, was found in a closet, raped and strangled. King was convicted based on his relationship to the victim and his alleged inconsistent statements surrounding his whereabouts on the day of the crime.
DNA testing of the semen from the rape kit and skin cells under the victim's fingernails demonstrated that Evin King was not the perpetrator. For years prosecutors did not respond to King’s motions for relief, even though the evidence of King's innocence was clear. And the trial court did not act on King's post-conviction motion for nearly 18 months before denying relief. The Eighth District Court of Appeals saw it differently, however. In 2016 they reviewed the trial court’s decision, and sent the case back to the trial court for a hearing, while specifically noting that the DNA evidence supported King’s claim of innocence. On Friday, April 14th the OIP learned that Cuyahoga County prosecutor Michael O’Malley had asked new prosecutors to take another look at the case. They did, and when O’Malley learned the details of their findings and reviewed an analysis of the evidence, he ordered King’s conviction be overturned and that he be released.
“While the initial delay in obtaining justice for Mr. King is disturbing, Michael O’Malley and the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office deserve credit for turning this case around and correcting an injustice,” says Mark Godsey, OIP co-founder and director. “O’Malley’s involvement in the case since his recent election, along with his decision to put new prosecutors on the case, may have been the pivotal factor that secured freedom for an innocent man, and we are thankful for his heroic intervention.”
This exoneration is due to the hard work and dedication of many current and former OIP attorneys and fellows. Professor Bergeron has represented King for many years, along with former OIP staff attorney Carrie Wood (now at the Hamilton County Public Defender’s Office). OIP fellows on the case include Taylor Freed'16, Katie Wilkin'16, Mallorie Thomas'17(expected), Joe Wambaugh, Bryant Strayer'14, Steve Kelly'17, Morgan Keilholz'18 (expected), Jon Walker'18, Scott Leaman'14, Thomas Styslinger'14, John Markus'15, and Julie Payne'15. Also, special thanks to the Ohio Public Defenders Office, particularly Kris Haines, who worked on King’s case as well for many years.
Watch videos of Evin King learning of his release, being set free by Judge Corrigan, and walking out of the courthouse a free man after 23 years in prison.
TIME Magazine Special Edition Features the Ohio Innocence Project, an Extraordinary Honor for the Organization
The Ohio Innocence Project has received an unprecedented honor – a feature in TIME magazine’s special edition examining wrongful convictions. The issue, which is anticipated to sell over a half a million copies, was recently published (Feb 2017) and is available at newsstands across the country.
Says Professor Mark Godsey, Director of the Ohio Innocence Project, “I’m thrilled that Time has dedicated an entire issue to the Innocence Movement, which demonstrates the enormous impact it has had on our criminal justice system. We at OIP are honored to have been highlighted as a central player in what is now becoming a global human rights movement. And we are thankful to the University of Cincinnati and our many donors for making it all possible.
The issue, “Innocent: The Fight Against Wrongful Convictions,” takes a look at 25 years of the innocence movement. The Ohio Innocence Project (OIP) is highlighted with a multi-page spread. In a ten-page feature, the edition shares the stories of
- Ricky Jackson, the OIP exoneree who holds the record for the most years an exonerated American has served in prison, taking a “behind the scenes” look at his case, beginning in 1975 to today.
- Clarence Elkins, the OIP’s first successful exoneration, his battle for freedom, and the lengths he and the OIP students went through to help secure his release.
- Roger Dean Gillispie, the first case for the fledgling OIP in 2003, and the continuing obstacles in his case.
- OIP Director Mark Godsey’s unique career as an award-winning prosecutor turned champion for the innocent, and his emergence as a global leader in the movement. It also features his forthcoming book Blind Injustice: A Former Prosecutor Exposes the Psychology and Politics of Wrongful Convictions.
Dean Jennifer S. Bard, Nippert Professor of Law at the law school, also comments “It’s an honor to have the Rosenthal Institute for Justice/ Ohio Innocence Project at the University of Cincinnati College of Law. The work Mark Godsey, Jennifer Bergeron, Donald Caster, and Brian Howe do is absolutely remarkable as are the opportunities the students involved have to learn how much influence lawyers have in changing the lives of both individuals and society. The work OIP does in making sure the legal system continues to work hard to avoid error infuses our entire law school and makes every student we graduate a better lawyer.”
The Ohio Innocence Project Honors International Wrongful Conviction Day
Tonight, October 4, 2016, the Duke Energy Building will be lit in the colors yellow and white in honor of International Wrongful Conviction Day.
Cincinnati, OH—The Ohio Innocence Project/Rosenthal Institute for Justice at the University of Cincinnati College of Law is celebrating International Wrongful Conviction Day by lighting up the city’s Duke Energy Building this evening in yellow and white—the colors symbolic of the wrongful conviction movement.
In addition to the lighting event, OIP-u chapters throughout the state have hosted activities over the last few weeks to commemorate the day. Events included:
- The John Carroll University chapter welcomed members of the Exoneree Band, a touring group of former prisoners-turned musicians, to participate in a panel discussion about wrongful conviction. Participants included Raymond Towler, an OIP exoneree, as well as exonerees from across the country.
- The University of Day chapter led a discussion by Dr. Melissa Berry about the causes of wrongful conviction, incorporating examples from the Netflix series “Making a Murderer” and the personal experiences of Ohio’s exonerees.
- The Ohio State University chapter hosted an information table to promote awareness among students about wrongful conviction and the OIP.
- And, the University of Cincinnati chapter assisted with the inaugural Bearcat Dash & Bash event.
OIP-u is a college network of innocence advocates that provides an avenue for Ohio undergraduate and graduate students to get more involved in the fight for freedom of wrongfully incarcerated people. Launched just last year, six OIP-u chapters have been created: John Carroll University, Ohio University, University of Dayton, the Ohio State University, Xavier University and the University of Cincinnati.
Today’s celebration and event comes on the heels of the successful inaugural Bearcat Dash & Bash, the OIP’s walk/run event to raise awareness and funds for the organization and for the university’s Athletics Department. The event, held Sunday, October 2, involved more than 1800 participants—with nearly 1400 in the 5K walk and nearly 500 in the 18.19K run. The 5K walk, which also included nine exonerees walking in the Freedom Walk, took participants through the university’s award-winning campus. The 18.19K run, which represents the average time that the OIP’s 24 clients spent in prison for crimes they didn’t commit, as well as the year of the University of Cincinnati’s founding, took participants through campus and the historic Clifton community.
International Wrongful Conviction Day recognizes the personal, social and legal costs associated with wrongful conviction. Launched by Win Wahren of the Association in Defense of the Wrongfully Convicted and a small group of like-minded individuals, the day is dedicated to recognizing those whose lives have been adversely impacted by wrongful conviction as well as educating the broader community on its causes, consequences and complications. Recognizing that wrongful convictions are not limited to one jurisdiction or nation, the group sought to unite individuals and organizations around the world in the effort to eradicate wrongful convictions.
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
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.
Cincinnati, 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.