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
College of Law Chief of Staff Installed as National President
Mina Jones Jefferson, Chief of Staff and Director of the Center for Professional Development, is now president of the National Association for Law Placement (NALP), an association of more than 2,500 legal career professionals dedicated to facilitating legal career counseling and planning, recruitment and retention, and the professional development of law students and lawyers. The 44-year-old organization advises law students, lawyers, law offices, and law schools across North America and beyond.
Jefferson was installed at the NALP annual conference in April 2016. Her term includes service as president-elect in 2015-16, president in 2016-2017 and immediate past president in 2017-2018.
“It’s a privilege to have a leadership role with the preeminent organization for legal career professionals,” Jefferson said. “I look forward to advancing the initiatives identified in NALP’s strategic plan and upholding its foundational beliefs that law students and lawyers should benefit from a fair and ethical hiring process; that law students and lawyers are more successful when supported by professional development and legal career professionals; and that a diverse and inclusive legal profession best serves clients and our communities.”
Jefferson, a University of Cincinnati 1990 College of Law graduate, has a strong background in the legal hiring field. As a former hiring partner at a National Law Journal Top 250 law firm, she is one of the few law-school career-services professionals in the country who has worked on both sides of the table. She practiced commercial litigation for almost a decade and was one of the first African American women in the region elected to partnership at a large firm.
A published author, Jefferson writes on the topic of careers and professional development for numerous legal publications and is a sought-after speaker on the topic of professionalism. She has also taught ethics courses at the college, as well as the legal extern course.
Active in the community, she currently serves on the Steering Committee for the Cincinnati Academy of Leadership for Lawyers (CALL). Jefferson, a former co-director of the Law and Leadership Institute at the College, also served by appointment on the Supreme Court of Ohio’s Continuing Legal Education Committee. Additionally she has been a member of the board of the Legal Aid Society of Greater Cincinnati, Children’s Law Center, ProKids, and the Cincinnati Bar Foundation.
Cincinnati Law Announces Recipients of First-Ever Dean’s Award for Faculty Excellence
Congratulations to Associate Dean Nancy Oliver and Professor Brad Mank, who have been awarded the first Dean’s Award for Faculty Excellence, a new award created by the Office of the Provost. The award recognizes outstanding faculty members in each college who represent excellence in all its forms. Recipients will receive $2,000 in discretionary funds to be used toward their teaching or research. These faculty development awards are meant to recognize their contributions to their respective colleges and to UC, as well as support their professional efforts.
Professor Oliver is recognized for her many contributions as the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs. Under her leadership, the law school launched the LLM Program in the US Legal System (master’s degree program for foreign-trained attorneys); the Graduate Certificate Program, which includes the Certificate in Legal Studies, the Certificate in U.S. Law, and the Certificate in the Fundamentals of U.S. Law; and the Undergraduate Certificate in Legal Studies. In addition, she has played an important role in teaching research and writing to LLM students, all of whom have first law degrees from other countries. These programs have helped Cincinnati Law to grow while also giving students greater options and opportunities.
Furthermore, Professor Oliver has been a key member in many issues related to changes in ABA Standards, including developing learning outcomes for the college, creating an assessment plan, and conducting extensive curriculum review to ensure compliance. And she worked with the Registrar’s Office as the university created the new student information portal. Her detailed involvement and devotion of time and energy demonstrate her strong advocacy for students in the law school. Professor Oliver will be returning to the faculty this summer.
Professor Brad Mank, the James B. Helmer Professor of Law, is recognized for his service and scholarship contributions to the College of Law. During the past two years, he has published, or had accepted for publication, five articles and essays, including articles in the Notre Dame Law Review and the University of Pennsylvania Journal of Constitutional Law. While maintaining an active scholarly agenda, Professor Mank has been instrumental in establishing the undergraduate certificate program, and chaired the Academic Policy and Curriculum (APC) Committee over several years of significant work.
Additionally, Professor Mank is a highly regarded teacher in the areas of administrative, natural resources, and environmental law. And he serves as an advisor to the Immigration and Nationality Law Review (INLR), an internationally recognized, student-run law journal. Recently Professor Mank accepted the position of Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and will be transitioning to his new role this summer.
Author: Michelle Flanagan, Cincinnati Law 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.
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
Congratulations 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.
Law Firm/Corporate Friends of OIP
Cors & Bassett LLC
Cuni, Ferguson & LeVay Co., LPA
Freking Myers & Reul LLC
Cincinnati Law’s Entrepreneurship Clinic Director Named U.S. Small Business Administration’s “Legal Champion” for 2016
Cincinnati, OH—Lew Goldfarb, the Director of Cincinnati Law’s Entrepreneurship and Community Development Clinic (ECDC), has been named the U.S. Small Business Administration’s “Legal Champion” of 2016 for the Columbus District. Goldfarb will be honored at the SBA’s annual banquet in Columbus, Ohio, on May 5, 2016.
Goldfarb came to Cincinnati Law to create and manage the school’s business clinic, launching ECDC in 2011. Since that time, it has become a coveted learning opportunity for law students and a vital resource for Cincinnati area businesses that cannot afford legal help. Over 120 students have received hands on training, representing 180 business—adding up to nearly $1,000,000 of free legal services to the local economy.
“I’m proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish in a little over five years,” says Goldfarb. “The significant impact of the ECDC can be attributed in large part to community involvement and collaboration, including involvement of local lawyers who graciously volunteer to supervise students and collaborations with local business accelerators and incubators like The Brandery, Mortar Cincinnati, Bad Girl Ventures, Hamilton County Business Center, and First Batch. By working together, we can make a big difference in this community”.
Regarding his designation as the SBA’s “Legal Champion”, Goldfarb says that he will accept the award on behalf of many people — “the many students who’ve staffed the clinic over the years; the volunteers who’ve assisted along the way; the ECDC’s office manager, Lori Strait, who oversees the day-to-day operations of the ECDC office; the community partners who trust us enough to work with them and their companies; and, importantly, the aspiring entrepreneurs in the Cincinnati area who are risking a lot to pursue their dreams and to make Cincinnati a better place for all of us.”
Cincinnati Law Posts Highest Pass Rate for February Ohio Bar
Cincinnati Law’s February 2016 Ohio Bar Exam pass rate is the highest rate in the state.
Cincinnati, OH—Today, the results are in for the most recent examination and Cincinnati Law, ranked a top 50 public law school in the nation by US News & World Report, recorded a 76% overall rate, the highest overall passage rate out of the nine Ohio schools for the February 2016 bar exam!
The law school’s passage rate is more than 15 percent higher than the statewide average of 57 percent for overall test takers. In addition, graduates taking the bar exam for the second time passed at an 88 percent rate, placing us first among Ohio law schools which averaged a 59 percent second time pass rate.
“I am delighted with the success that our students achieved on the February Ohio bar exam. It's a tribute to their hard work and that of the faculty and staff who do such a wonderful job teaching them,” said Jennifer S. Bard, Dean and Nippert Professor of Law at Cincinnati Law.
Applicants who successfully passed the examination and who satisfied all of the Supreme Court of Ohio’s other requirements will be sworn in during a special session of the Supreme Court of Ohio on Monday, May 2 at 2:00 p.m. at the Palace Theatre in Columbus, OH.
Additional News About Cincinnati Law
Cincinnati Law Reports Strong Bar Passage Results (July 2015 exam)
Best Value Law School
Experience of a Lifetime: Second-Year Law Student Ariel Guggisberg Helps Secure Prisoner’s Release
Law student helps write petition that leads to prisoner’s sentence commutation.
Cincinnati, OH—President Barack Obama’s recent commutation of 61 federal prisoners has a Cincinnati Law connection: second-year student Ariel Guggisberg helped draft the clemency petition for one of the prisoners whose sentence was commuted. “It feels like we really changed a person’s life,” she said.
The clemency petition was made possible under the umbrella of Clemency Project 2014, a working group of attorneys and advocates who provide pro bono assistance to federal prisoners who would likely have received a shorter sentence if sentenced today. Participants include federal defenders, the American Civil Liberties Union, Families Against Mandatory Minimums, the American Bar Association, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, more than 70 of the nation’s largest and most prestigious law firms, 500 small firms and solo practitioners, and 30 law schools and clinics. The project was developed after former Deputy Attorney General James Cole appealed to the legal profession to provide free assistance to help identify eligible prisoners and assist them in preparation of clemency petitions.
The Clemency Project 2014 reviews requests from a prisoner who has served 10 years and does not have an obviously disqualifying feature (ex. a crime of violence). The prisoner is assigned an attorney, who requests permission to review documents in his/her case to determine if other criteria are met. If the prisoner is qualified, the individual is assisted by a lawyer to help fill out and file a clemency petition. That’s where Guggisberg came in.
As part of her summer internship at firm Pinales Stachler last year, Guggisberg—under the direction of her supervising attorney Candace Crouse—was charged with helping to draft the petition for her client Michael Morris. (The firm was assigned two cases.) “I thought it was so much fun over last summer,” she said, “finding ways to argue how our client would be sentenced differently today—such as ‘the old laws required mandatory outlandish sentences,’ ‘the sentencing laws differ today,’ and ‘our client has accepted responsibility and learned from his experience.’
“We had to show he’s been rehabilitated and that he can contribute to society.”
After the petition was written, it was submitted to the Office of the Pardon Attorney, where the US Pardon Attorney makes final recommendations to the President. Then they wait to hear.
President Obama’s commutations are part of a larger effort calling for changes to sentencing laws. Most of the recipients “are low-level drug offenders whose sentences would have been shorter if they were convicted under today’s laws,” wrote President Obama in a Facebook posting. He went on to describe pardons and communications as ways “to show people what a second chance can look like.”
Guggisberg and her colleagues at the firm had the pleasure and privilege of breaking the exciting news to their client. She described it as an “incredibly rewarding experience.” Mr. Morris, who is in Texas, will live with his family to reintegrate into society, beginning his new life in July when he and the others are officially released.
What did she learn from this experience? Guggisberg shared that she was impressed and encouraged by watching her colleagues, daily, do everything they can for clients. “It was beautiful to see. I learned that to be successful in criminal defense, you have to have thick skin and relentless hope in humanity.”
Upon graduation next year, Guggisberg plans to focus her career in healthcare law.
Marianna Bettman, Law Professor and Alumnae, Receives University’s Distinguished Teaching Award
Professor Emerita of Practice Marianna Bettman received the University of Cincinnati Distinguished Teaching Professor Award on Tuesday, April 19, 2016.
Cincinnati, OH—Congratulations to Cincinnati Law graduate and Professor Emerita of Practice Marianna Brown Bettman who received the University of Cincinnati’s Distinguished Teaching Professor Award. The award was presented at the university’s annual Faculty Awards Celebration, presided over by President Santa Ono, Provost Beverly Davenport, and the Faculty Senate.
"We are all exceptionally glad of the recognition Professor Bettman is receiving for being an exceptional educator. She has had a positive influence on the practice of law in Ohio and beyond through the hundreds of students she has taught. I look forward to her continued association with the law school even as she enjoys the much deserved freedom of retirement," said Jennifer S. Bard, Dean and Nippert Professor of Law at Cincinnati Law.
Professor Bettman started her professional career working in community development during the late 60’s, speaking to community members about school desegregation. Recognizing the role legal solutions could play to address racial injustice, she determined that her next career step would be law school at the university. While there, she excelled at school, winning the Constitutional Law Prize and becoming the first woman to be awarded first prize in Trial Advocacy.
After graduation in 1977, Professor Bettman began working in private practice. From there, she was elected Judge, First District Court of Appeals—the first woman elected to this position. She developed an expertise in separation of powers, state constitutional law, and the Ohio judicial system. After six years on the bench, the opportunity arose to join academia, leading her to College of Law in 1999; she remained at the school until recently. Her mastery of material and the high expectations set for students is legendary. Students, in turn, thrived under her style. Noted one, “Professor Bettman keeps us on our toes. You must be well-prepared at all times because you are called on every class!” In addition to teaching, she directed the Judge-In-Residence and Judicial Extern programs.
Professor Bettman is the recipient of numerous awards. They include the following: The Goldman Prize for Excellence in Teaching (2005, 2011, 2014), the Excellence in Education Award (Ohio Magazine, 2011), Cincinnati Attorney of the Year (Jewish National Fund, Judge Carl B. Rubin Legal Society, 2010), the Foot Soldiers in the Sand Award (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People-National Chapter, 2008), the A.B. “Dolly” Cohen Award for Excellence in Teaching (University of Cincinnati, 2008), the Nettie Cronies Lutes Award (Ohio State Bar Association, 2008), the University of Cincinnati Law Alumni Association Distinguished Alumna Award (2001), the Women’s Studies Distinguished Alumna Award (University of Cincinnati, 1998), the YWCA Career Woman of Achievement (1994), and many more. She authors the well-respected blog Legally Speaking Ohio and the monthly newspaper column Legally Speaking for the American Israelite, in addition to lecturing at numerous continuing legal education seminars, including an annual presentation at the Ohio Judicial Conference. Professor Bettman retired from teaching in December 2015. However, she is still committed to the law school and the education and training of future generations of attorneys.