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
New School Year Begins as Cincinnati Law’s Enrollment Continues to Grow
Cincinnati, OH— Cincinnati Law launched the 2016-2017 academic year with one of its largest classes in recent years — 127 JD students enrolled as of August 22, 2016. This represents a 26% increase in class size over 2015. Not only is this group the biggest class entering the law school since 2010, it is also representative of a six percent increase in applications over the past year. Significantly, this year’s class includes a record number of students with degrees from the University of Cincinnati. In fact, the number of students matriculating from the university has doubled, compared to last year. Twenty-five are double Bearcats and three are triple Bearcats! In total, the first-year students represent 62 undergraduate institutions.
The LLM (master’s degree) program for internationally-trained attorneys and law graduates also continues to grow. Now in its fifth year, the LLM program boasts 18 attorney students, including several individuals who have returned for additional training and certificates.
A Look at their Backgrounds
Several are citizens of foreign countries: Canada, Colombia, and the United Kingdom. And, the class includes native speakers of Russian, Kurdish, Spanish, Telugu (language native to India) and Akan (language native to Ghana).
Though many are recent graduates from undergraduate institutions, some come to law school after careers in other impressive fields. One is a medical doctor, a farm manager, an NFL cheerleader, an environmental research engineer with the EPA, a (former) women’s pro basketball player in Europe, and a criminal justice professor. One is a former UC mascot, and another is an American Idol pre-show finalist!
They are veterans of the Armed Forces, including a Marine Corps Sergeant and a Corporal, and an Air Force Lieutenant Colonel. Some are college athletes, excelling in women’s soccer, women’s and men’s basketball, rugby, volleyball, dance and golf. And, they enjoy giving back to the community through service with Teach for America, International Justice Mission, the Ronald McDonald House, the March of Dimes, Relay for Life, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, among many other philanthropic organizations.
Most (59%) are Ohio residents; 41% are non-Ohio residents and come from 21 states. The Class of 2019 has spent significant time studying abroad and/or has international experiences in places like Vietnam, France, England, Tanzania, Spain, Portugal, New Zealand, Ireland, India, Nicaragua, and Belize.
Law School Welcomes 18 LLM Students
The LLM program, Cincinnati Law’s master degree program for foreign-trained attorneys, continues to expand. This year’s participants come from 10 countries: Saudi Arabia, Jordan, India, Uganda, Estonia, France, the Republic of Georgia, Ghana, the Philippines, and China. The professional careers of the attorney students include positions as a lecturer in Saudi Arabia; an intern for the Supreme Court in Amman, Jordan; the president/CEO of Global One, Inc., an organization with links entrepreneurs in Africa with investors in the US; and judicial clerk for a senior judge at the Delhi High Court in New Delhi. And, this year’s class also includes the school’s first Fulbright Scholar.
Their areas of interest are varied and include criminal law, human rights, international arbitration, intellectual property law, and environmental and immigration law.
Introducing our Newest LLM Students
|Islam Albalawi||Saudi Arabia||Islam obtained her LLB from King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. She received her LLM with us last year, and is currently working toward her Certificate in Fundamentals of US Law. After this year, Islam plans to return to her position as a lecturer at Al Jouf University in northern Saudi Arabia.|
|Mubarak Aldousari||Kuwait/Saudi Arabia/Egypt||Mubarak earned his LLB from Cairo University in Egypt. Born in Kuwait, he grew up in Saudi Arabia in a family where two brothers entered the law profession before him. After his LLM at UC Law, Mubarak hopes to work with multinational corporations that partner with humanitarian organizations.|
|Turki Aldousari||Kuwait/Saudi Arabia/Egypt||Turki joins us for a second year and is working toward his Certificate in Fundamentals of US Law, having received his LLM last year. Born in Kuwait but raised in Saudi Arabia, he obtained his LLB from Cairo University in Egypt and is interested in human rights law.|
|Ibtehal Alhoymel||Saudi Arabia||Ibtehal joins us from Princess Noura University in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. She has a special interest in business law, and hopes to become one of the growing number of female university lecturers in law when she returns to her home country.|
|Abdulrahman Almawishir||Jordan/Saudi Arabia||Abdulrahman comes to us from Saudia Arabia and completed his law studies at Philadelphia University in Amman, Jordan, where he interned with the Supreme Court. He is a practicing lawyer in Saudi Arabia and plans to pursue his SJD in the US after his LLM.|
|Rawan Alsaeed||Saudi Arabia||Rawan obtained her LLB at King Saud University in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia., where she graduated with honors. She is committed to making a difference in her community, and has volunteered extensively with various youth organizations, having even been awarded a medal of excellence for her volunteer work at KSU. She hopes to start her own business in the future.|
|Timothy Appiah||Ghana/US||Tim has lived in Ohio for several years, but is originally from Ghana, where he earned his LLB at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Kumasi. He has extensive experience working in the financial sector and has a special interest in disability rights law. Tim is the President and CEO of Global One Inc., which links entreprenueurs in Africa with investors in the US.|
|Kumari Bansal||India||Kumari joins us from India. She obtained her LLB at Symbiosis International University Law School in Uttar Pradesh, where she developed an interest in intellectual property rights as well as media law. She currently works as a judicial clerk for a senior judge at the Delhi High Court in New Delhi.|
|Flavia Ibyara||Uganda||Flavia earned her LLB from Uganda Christian University in Mukono, Uganda, where she was President of the Human Rights Association, and won The Duke of Edinburgh's International Award at the Inter-University Human Rights Competition. She has special interests in human rights and international law, and plans to pursue her SJD in the future.|
|Ahmed Khodir||Egypt/US||Ahmed has been a Kentucky resident for some time. Originally from Egypt, he obtained his LLB from Alexandria University and studied international commercial law at the Lyon Law School in France. He has experience as corporate lawyer in Alexandria, and hopes to practice law in the US in the future.|
|Natia Mezvrishvili||Georgia||Natia comes to us as our first Fulbright Foreign Student grantee. She joins us from Georgia, where she graduated with an LLB and Masters in Law from Tbilisi State University law school. Natia is currently Head of the Department of Supervision over Prosecutorial Activities and Strategic Development in Georgia's Chief Prosecutor's Office. She holds a special interest in human rights and criminal rights law and has represented Georgia in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.|
|Belinda Seruhere||Uganda||Belinda is a practicing lawyer in her home country of Uganda, and holds an LLB from Makerere University in Kampala, where she graduated with honors. She also holds a post graduate diploma in legal practice. At home, she is currently working as a legal assistant at a private law firm. Belinda is especially interested in human rights law and advocacy.|
|Sarah Sijelmassi||France||Sarah received her LLM with us last year and is returning this year, pursuing a Certificate in Fundamentals of US Law. She earned her Masters in French Legal Studies with a specialization in intellectual property law from the Université de Montpellier, and her License (LLB) at the Université Toulouse. Sarah's area of interest while here at UC is intellectual property law.|
|Aradhana Singh||India||Aradhana obtained her LLB from University Law College, Utkal University, in Bhubaneswar, India. She has interned with the Orissa High Court, as well as with the Orissa Information Commission and the Orissa Human Rights Commission. Aradhana is also a professional dancer. Her area of interest is intellectual property law.|
|Franklin Uwizera||Uganda||Franklin joins us from Kampala, Uganda, where he earned his LLB at Uganda Christian University. Known for his skills as an orator, his team twice won the Ugandan national moot court competition and went on to represent Uganda in international rounds of the Philip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition in Washington, DC. His special interests include international arbitration, commercial and intellectual property law.|
|Valeria Verro||Estonia||Valeria is a long time Cincinnati resident who comes to UC Law by way of Estonia and England. Born in Estonia, she earned her LLB from the University of Leicester and her LLM in International Human Rights at Birmingham City University. She currently works with Prime Home Care LLC in Maineville, Ohio. Her special interests include human rights, environmental and immigration law.|
|Jenny Wang||China/US||Jenny is a current Cincinnati resident, but is originally from China. She received a Bachelor's degree in English from Xiamen University and a Master's of Public Administration from Renmin University, with a concentration in Human Resources Management. Jenny earned her LLB from East China University of Political Science and Law in Shanghai, where she focused on administrative law. Before relocating to Cincinnati, Jenny worked with the Shanghai General Station of Immigration Inspection, supervising the enforcement of regulations at air, sea and land ports in Shanghai.|
|Cora Wray||Philippines||Cora is a longtime Cincinnati resident and received her BS in Commerce and her LLB at Xavier University of the Philippines Law School, in Cagayan de Oro. She has worked in patent law with the legal department of Procter & Gamble since 2004. Her interests include international and business law.|
|Christine Wu||China||Christine joins us from China, where she earned her LLB at Beijing Forestry University and participated in their legal aid center. Her most recent position was working as an investigator at the Copyright Protection Center of China. She also has experience working with a legal aid team that provides legal assistance to female prisoners at Beijing Women's Prison. Christine's areas of interest include criminal law and civil procedure.|
Cincinnati Law Student Working for Fair Labor
Cincinnati Law student Jackie Miller’s commute may simply be into downtown Cincinnati this summer, but she will be working on a national scale as part of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The NLRB is an independent federal agency which holds the power to protect employees’ rights to organize and have unions as a bargaining representative, and works to prevent unfair labor practices.
This opportunity will allow Miller to get her feet wet and use her “skills and desires for order and logic, but to also affect positive change”, a major component that propelled her to law school. Although she has a year before graduation, this summer will help her discover if she wants to continue pursuing work in labor law and government.
“I was looking forward to seeing what working for the government was like, to see what other people thought of it, and I’m always interested in real life experiences,” she said about this job. “You hear a lot of stories about workers, their employers, and their unions, and then you get to see how a government agency handles those cases according to its own statute and case law.”
Miller is doing more than simply watching from the sidelines. She is investigating her own cases regarding unfair labor practices under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). At work day-to-day, she is busy learning about the NLRA, taking affidavits, writing letters to attorneys and representatives, and researching issues that come up in the office that nobody is quite sure how to handle.
The NLRB is housed in the John Weld Peck Federal Building, giving Miller opportunities to learn about other agencies as well, such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Department of Homeland Security’s Citizenship and Immigration Services. Although the knowledge she is gaining about the NLRA may be considered niche, it is absolutely useful for labor attorneys.
She noted the parallels to the classroom as well. “Real life experience is usually pretty great for putting schoolwork into perspective as well. You understand better why your professor emphasized what he or she did, and you become aware of new issues.”
For Miller, the most rewarding part of law school has been the challenges both in and out of the classroom, forcing her out of her comfort zone. “It’s not easy for everyone to be assertive, somewhat outspoken, manage time and work, maintain confidence, be resilient, and become smarter,” she said, pointing to growth she has seen in herself both personally and professionally.
Author: Michelle Flanagan, ‘18, Communication Intern
UC Mascot Pursues Legal Education at Cincinnati Law
Adam Stickney knew he was going to attend the University of Cincinnati since he was 14 years old.
Growing up listening to his mom’s stories about her time at UC, he was already fond of the school. Then, when he stepped foot on campus - the first college campus he had ever been on - it was love at first sight.
Stickney decided on his college at a young age, and the decision about his career path followed in much the same way. Coming from a long line of doctors, it was never a question whether Stickney would pursue a professional school. After ruling out the medical world during high school, he knew he wanted to become a lawyer.
To go to law school, however, he needed to decide on an undergraduate degree. While he intended to use a degree in engineering as a stepping stone, he quickly discovered that that was not the route for him.
After re-evaluating his options, Stickney chose to pursue his interest in the Marine Corps. Stickney declared a criminal justice major, which he felt tied into the military, and intended to go to law school after his four years of service.
Although he planned to attend officer candidate school with the Marines, his extracurricular activities prevented that dream from being realized. A member of the cheerleading team, Stickney injured his shoulder and required multiple surgeries, causing him to become disqualified from the program.
As a result, he applied early-decision to Cincinnati Law during his senior year of his undergraduate education. At that time, Stickney was dead set on practicing criminal law, whether it was defense or prosecution.
“I thought criminal justice was the best degree I could have had. But hindsight’s always 20/20,” Stickney said, referring to his evolving plans. After talking to professionals and continuing research since his acceptance, he has also become interested in corporate practices.
Even so, his background in criminal justice and familiarity with the law in general may give Stickney a boost during his first year of law school.
Lovin’ that Bearcat Life
Despite his time as a cheerleader - and UC mascot - disrupting his plans for the military, Stickney loved the experience.
“It’s incredibly fun [being the mascot], honestly,” he said. “And it’s hot. Wherever you are, it’s 50 degrees hotter inside the suit,” he laughed.
Performing in front of thousands of students and fans never made Stickney nervous. Because there are multiple Bearcats, audiences can never be sure who is in the suit. He explained that being behind the mask provides a certain sense of security, emboldening wearers to act a little extra spirited.
Unfortunately, because of his surgeries, Stickney was unable to perform at many of the school’s sporting events, his only regret. Most of his time as the mascot was spent at social and extracurricular events, one of his favorites being a wedding in Hyde Park.
“They were both UC grads, so I ran around, I danced with the bride for a song, and I danced with some little kids. Basically, I goofed around trying to entertain people. And I took pictures a lot,” said Stickney.
As for the fall, Stickney is excited to focus on school. He admits that during his undergraduate career he had to force himself to buckle down and do the work. Whether that was because he wasn’t in the right program, or because he works better under pressure, he isn’t sure. Now, he’s even eager to start the summer reading list.
This excitement started the day he was accepted to law school. When he received his acceptance notification, he stopped being able to focus on work, and had to leave early.
“I just needed to get out of there and run around,” Stickney remembered about that day.
Although he applied early-decision, there was a technological error in his application, resulting in a delay in his acceptance.
“I ended up making a massive annoyance of myself to Dean Watson… I think he finally decided I was too pesky and just told me I was in,” laughed Stickney.
Stickney is excited to continue on at the University of Cincinnati. A fan of both the university itself and the surrounding area, he could not be happier to call it home.
“Anyone who’s coming to UC, they have everything to look forward to.”
Author: Michelle Flanagan, ‘18, Communication Intern
Triple Bearcat Begins 8th year, 3rd Degree at UC
“It’s not about what brought me here, it’s about what kept me here,” said triple Bearcat Drew Lehmkuhl about his decision to pursue three separate degrees at the same university.
Lehmkuhl, who will be a 1L this fall, is entering his eighth year at the University of Cincinnati. He earned his undergraduate degree in neuroscience, and recently completed his master’s degree in experimental psychology, defending his thesis at the end of June.
Growing up in Northern Kentucky as the son of a University of Cincinnati graduate, Lehmkuhl was always a huge fan of UC sports. Even so, attending UC was not the original plan. Set to start school at the University of Louisville, he changed his mind at the last second.
“I took a leap of faith,” he stated, recalling his last-minute decision to attend a school where he wouldn’t know anyone. After leaping, however, he landed on his own two feet.
Lehmkuhl knew that he had made the right decision when he realized that what Cincinnati boasts about is true: a big school, but a tight-knit community. After becoming involved on-campus, particularly in the “unbelievable research” and interdisciplinary collaboration that was available as an undergraduate student, he felt right at home.
Four years simply was not enough time, and Lehmkuhl found himself wanting to continue on in the science field and to become more involved in research. He credits the university with focusing on practical skills to complement textbook learning, a balance that assured him UC was the right place for his graduate education.
Although the setting was the same, there were major differences between Lehmkuhl’s undergraduate and graduate education. Many of his peers had not attended the university for undergraduate, and he described showing them around campus as “being with a bunch of older freshmen.” A thirst for learning was more obvious in these “freshmen” than many of those with whom Lehmkuhl had entered UC, however.
Many undergraduate students, particularly in the beginning of their higher education careers, are more focused on passing a general education class or earning a specific grade on an exam than truly learning and absorbing the information presented to them. In graduate school, Lehmkuhl noticed, mindsets shifted towards truly learning materials in order to later apply them to practice. “It was awesome having a close group of driven students around me who are very passionate about what they do in their fields,” he said.
As a graduate student, Lehmkuhl was able to take a more involved role in research, and work more closely with faculty members. Between his undergraduate and graduate degrees, he has been able to work in many areas, including psychology, biology, and neurology, and worked at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in the area of human genetics.
Even with a positive atmosphere and attitude, eight years of continuous schooling, with three more to go, can seem daunting. But not to Lemkuhl.
Since he has had the past year and a half off of classes, working 40 hours a week on intensive research programs, Lemkuhl is ready to be a student again. “When you’re working, it doesn’t feel like school,” he said. “I think this break time, though, has served a purpose. I love being in the classroom and can’t wait to get back.”
In addition to his work, Lemkuhl has taught classes the past six semesters, most recently research methods and statistics in behavioral sciences. Whether it was seeing concepts click into place, or the journey from glassy-eyed at the start to engaged and excited at the end, he enjoyed his stint as a teacher, and would absolutely do it again in the future.
For law school, Lehmkuhl’s area of interest lies in intellectual property. This stems from his experiences at UC, where he worked with individuals who inspired and amazed him each day.
“I want to continue working with brilliant people,” Lehmkuhl asserted. “I want to be a facilitator, a legal advocate, for these brilliant people who are doing work like this, who have brilliant ideas. And I want to protect those ideas.”
Author: Michelle Flanagan, ‘18, Communication Intern
There’s a Doctor in the House
Dr. Susan Brown has already had more experiences than most people have in a lifetime. Attending the University of Cincinnati for medical school, she funded her education through the United States Air Force. During her residency, she worked at Dayton Children’s Hospital, specializing in pediatric medicine. Her residency was through the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base (WPAFB), the only joint air force and civilian residency program in the country.
Brown later returned to the Queen City to work at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center for her fellowship in adolescent medicine.
After her residency, she became chief of Adolescent Medicine at WPAFB, a position she held for 12 years. She ran her own child abuse clinic, dealing with both physical and sexual abuse cases, and worked on cases involving the assault of young active duty troops all over the world.
While child abuse was an area she had originally hoped to avoid, Brown became a huge asset to the Air Force because of it. In addition to running her own clinic, she became the physician representative to the child maltreatment team; was a Department of Defense resource as an expert consultant and witness; traveled all over the world to work on cases; and, in her final two years, was named consultant to the Air Force Surgeon General for child abuse.
It was these experiences in the field, however, that ultimately led her to enroll in law school. After realizing her medical career didn’t to completely fulfill her desires, she knew she needed to take her professional career in another direction. Because another fellowship would have been almost impossible, she sought out an alternative route for advocacy.
“I want to help people, and law school seemed like another way to do that,” said Brown, who describes herself as a “bleeding heart.”
Although her undergraduate alma mater also boasts a law school, and offered her a full scholarship, she decided Cincinnati was the best fit. With the combination of the school’s collaborative atmosphere, the wide array of specific academic tracks, the high quality education, and the Glenn M. Weaver Institute for Law and Psychiatry, Cincinnati felt like home.
Brown particularly loves the Weaver Institute because of its interdisciplinary approach. While she has not settled on a specialty, she is interested in multiple areas: child abuse and family issues; veteran’s issues; and geriatric issues, including dementia and estate laws.
“That’s the beautiful thing I discovered about Weaver,” shared Brown. “It’s not a specific thing, but it branches through all of those things that interest me.”
Upon researching the Institute, she also discovered parallels between herself and founder Dr. Weaver; both doctors, both veterans, and both interested in bridging the gap between medicine and law.
While she admits she is likely to pick an area where law and medicine intersect, she is unsure of anything more specific. Regardless of specialty, her backgrounds in medicine and the military have allowed her a unique perspective that will likely prove beneficial.
Brown has worked on two humanitarian deployments to Guyana, the only English-speaking country in South America. A poor country to begin with, Guyana was experiencing political chaos at the time of her deployments. Because the country feared their medical staffs would try to leave, they discontinued any ongoing education or graduate medical education programs. The result was faulty medical care for patients.
Brown worked on a multidisciplinary team, charged with teaching the medical staffs in the country. This was a change of pace from the usual focus of direct clinical work. While she admits the trip was frightening at times - the team became expert marksmen during training, learning how to shoot M-9s, and traveled with armed guards - it was also gratifying.
“We were there for about a month each time, and it was very rewarding because it felt like we were really changing the system,” said Brown, who compared their work to the adage, “Give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he’ll never go hungry again.”
After her international travels and medical experience, Brown is enthusiastic about starting law school.
“I definitely love to have something different and challenging, and I know that law school will be that, and will help me find that next step. I don’t know what the next step is exactly - I have a fuzzy idea of where I want to go - but I think law school is a big part of it.”
Author: Michelle Flanagan, ‘18, Communication Intern
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.
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