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2017 Judge in Residence Lecture Focuses on State Laws Prohibiting Felons from Voting


Hon. DonaldCincinnati, OH –Recipient of over 100 awards, including the American Bar Association’s John H. Pickering Award of Achievement recognizing dedication to equal justice for all, and the Martin Luther King Community Service Award, Judge Bernice Donald has had an impressive professional journey, which she will share with the law community during her visit as the 2017 Judge in Residence. In addition to visiting classes and meeting with law students, Judge Donald will present several lectures:

  • Undermining Democracy Through Felony Disenfranchisement Laws” will be presented on Monday, February 20. During her lecture she will discuss state laws prohibiting millions of Americans with felony convictions from voting, and how these laws exist as barriers to democratic participation. Judge Donald will explore this pressing issue that implicates civil rights, social justice, and prison reform. The lecture will be presented on February 20, 2017 at 12:15 p.m. in Rm. 114.
  • Implicit Bias” will be presented on Tuesday, February 21 for the university community. Implicit bias is the process by which the brain uses mental associations that are so well-established as to operate without our awareness, intention, or control.  Judge Donald will discuss implicit bias and the way it manifests itself in our criminal justice system.  The lecture will be presented February 21, 2017 at 3:30 p.m. in Rm. 118.  All events are free and open to the public.

About Hon. Bernice B. Donald

 Judge Donald has served in courts at some of the highest levels of the United States Judicial system. In 2010, Judge Donald was nominated by then President Barack Obama to serve on the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. In 1995, then President Bill Clinton nominated her to the U.S District Court for the Western District of Tennessee. Prior to these judgeships, she served the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of Tennessee and State of Tennessee General Sessions Criminal Court.             

Barriers have been broken by Judge Donald’s appointments which have been history making.  Indeed, when accepting the position for the General Sessions Criminal Court, she became the first African American woman to serve as a judge in the history of the state of Tennessee. She was also the first African American woman to serve on the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, U.S District Court, and the U.S Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of Tennessee.

Judge Donald’s resume of appointments and achievements include notable positions, such as secretary of the American Bar Association, president of the American Bar Foundation, president of the National Association of Women Judges, and president of the Association of Women Attorneys.  She chaired the ABA Commission on Opportunities for Minorities; co-chaired the Task Force on Implicit Bias and Diversity for the ABA Section of Litigation; and in 2013, was elected to the Board of Directors of the American Judicature Society.

Event Details: Februrary 20, 2017 |  12:15-1:15 PM  | Room 114

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These events are brought by the University of Cincinnati College of Law’s Judge In Residence Program, which brings renowned judges into the academic and legal communities, sharing the theoretical and practical aspects of judicial decision-making.

           

             

TIME Magazine Special Edition Features the Ohio Innocence Project, an Extraordinary Honor for the Organization


OIP CoverThe 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.”

Recognized as a Best Value Law School, College of Law Receives A- Grade


The University of Cincinnati College of Law stands out as a consistent leader providing quality affordable legal education.  Cincinnati Law has earned A- level recognition as a “Best Value Law School” by National Jurist magazine for the fourth consecutive year and preLaw magazine for the third consecutive year. This is the second highest Best Value ranking by the magazines.

Ranked #60 by U.S. News & World Report—positioning it among the top 50 public law schools in the nation—Cincinnati Law’s “Best Value” accomplishment is indicative of the exciting changes happening at the law school. Notably, this fall first year enrollment saw a 26% increase over 2015, which had a 38% increase in enrollment. The college’s Ohio Innocence Project/Lois and Richard Rosenthal Institute for Justice recently received a $15 million gift from benefactor Richard Rosenthal, the largest for the college and any innocence program in the country, which will provide for the program in perpetuity.  And the University of Cincinnati Board of Trustees approved monies to fund a concept design for a new building, development of a probable cost for new construction and a relocation study while construction is underway.

“Our consistent recognition as a top 40 “Best Value” law school reflects a Cincinnati Law degree’s high return on investment,” says College of Law Dean Jennifer S. Bard, Nippert Professor of Law. “Our students succeed at the highest level in passing the bar and in getting good jobs while at the same time enjoying low debt levels that reflect our affordable tuition and the low cost of living in our region. We are honored to be recognized and proud of our students, faculty, staff, and alumni.  We are also fortunate to be part of such a successful research university which enhances the value of our students’ education.”

How the ranking is determined:

Each year, the magazines release rankings of law schools across the nation, identifying those schools where graduates have excellent chances of passing the bar and getting a legal job without taking on a significant debt. Rankings are based on several determining factors:

  • bar passage
  • affordability
  • employment success
  • tuition
  • cost of living in the surrounding communities

Looking at Cincinnati Law’s numbers, 80.7% of 2015 graduates obtained full-time, JD-required jobs within 10 months of graduation. The law school beat the state’s average, ranking second in Ohio as 86% of first-time takers passed the July 2016 Ohio Bar Exam; and ranking first in the state in the state as 76% of takers passed the February 2016 Bar Exam.  And, the school has actively worked to reduce student debt by introducing a low tuition rate program ($24K), reciprocity programs with surrounding counties, and low non-resident tuition fees.

Several Cincinnati Law programs have been recognized for excellence:

  • Public Interest/Criminal Law - The law school is ranked an A- school for students interested in public interest law or criminal law, based on the depth of our curricular offerings.
  • Business/Corporate Law - The law school is ranked an A- school for students interested in business or corporate law, based on the depth of our curricular offerings.
  • Prosecutorial/Public Defender Work - Cincinnati Law was named among the top 20 schools for law students interested in prosecutorial/public defender work.
  • Prosecutor/Public Defender Careers - The law school was ranked third in the nation for prosecutor and public defender careers, based on the percentage of graduates who landed jobs in public interest and government positions combined.  
  • Learning By Doing - For the third consecutive year we have been named a top school for practical training, a testament to the work and impact of the Entrepreneurship and Community Development Clinic.  

 

Cincinnati Law Bar Results Announced; Students Exceed State Average by 15%


Bar Pass

Today the results of the July 2016 Ohio Bar Exam were released and the University of Cincinnati College of Law, recognized as a “Best Value Law School” by National Jurist and preLaw magazines, recorded an 86 percent passage rate for all Cincinnati Law exam takers, second among Ohio’s law schools and 15 percentage points higher than the state-wide average of 70.5 percent. These numbers put the law school two percentage points behind our nearest competitor in Ohio and 10 percentage points ahead of all other Ohio law schools. 

The passage rate for Cincinnati Law first-time takers also was 86 percent, second in the state. This rate exceeds the state-wide average passing rate of 76 percent.  Almost 1,000 aspiring attorneys from across the state and the country took the July exam.

In addition, for those out-of-state jurisdictions that have released their outcomes, Class of 2016 results are very strong, representing a 90% pass rate, including a 100% pass rate in Indiana, Montana and West Virginia.

“Passing the bar exam is one of the singular events in every lawyer’s professional life and I warmly congratulate our students and everyone else who passed the Ohio Bar examination,” said Cincinnati Law’s Dean Jennifer S. Bard.

“Although in the end passing the bar exam is a test of an individual student’s knowledge, stamina, and analytical ability, it starts with strong teaching and support that our Cincinnati Law students get from every faculty and staff member.  We have had a great year here and it reflects a truly exceptional group of faculty, staff and students strongly supported by the faculty, staff, students, and trustees of the University of Cincinnati.   Thank you to everyone who has worked so hard to help our students succeed.  Go Bearcats!”  

Applicants who successfully passed the examination and who satisfied all of the Supreme Court’s other requirements for admission will be admitted on November 7, 2016 at 10:30 a.m. during a special session of the Supreme Court at the historic Ohio Theatre in Columbus, OH. The session will be streamed live via the Supreme Court and Ohio Channel websites at www.supremecourt.ohio.gov and www.ohiochannel.org.  It will also be available statewide on the Ohio Channel’s local public broadcasting stations.

 

Finding opportunity, growth and potential of living in Cincinnati


Betsy Emmert has deep Cincinnati roots and decided to stay here for her undergraduate and law school studies.

To be honest, my decision to stay in Cincinnati was probably predetermined for me. In true Cincinnati fashion, my parents are both from Cincinnati, and so are my grandparents – and their parents. The most exotic place from which my lineage draws back for 150 years is Bethel, Ohio.

I, too, fit the stereotypical mold in that I went to a private, all-girls high school, Skyline flows through my veins, and I say “Please?” instead of “Excuse me?” when I can’t hear what you just said. However, I would be remiss in saying I did not have the option to leave the city – for college and now for law school. I was tempted by scholarship dollars, the thought of warmer weather (or perhaps colder), and the glamour of big cities, yet my decision to begin and sustain my career in Cincinnati has evolved since I sent in my seat deposit for the University of Cincinnati in 2011.

Since high school, I have heard “I want to get out of Cincinnati” more times than John Matarese has told us, “Don’t waste your money,” on Channel 9 News. Some argue it is a “right of passage” to fly the proverbial nest and start an exciting journey at University of XYZ or take a job in Big City, USA. My reasons for staying in Cincinnati were not groundbreaking or earthshattering, and probably were more practical than they were strategic when I first entered the doors of the Lindner College of Business in September 2011. When I was 18, I chose to stay in Cincinnati for college to join the Lindner Honors-PLUS Program at UC, to be near my family, and to save money rather than venture out of state. As I look back on the past five years, I realize that staying in Cincinnati opened more doors and revealed opportunities I could never have imagined possible had I left the Queen City.

Cincinnati falls into that sweet spot. As a big small city, Cincinnati has the benefits of a larger city: sports and cultural attractions, research universities, great restaurants, outstanding parks, and strong business – without the overwhelming traffic, long commutes, high cost of living, or coastal snobbery. Most importantly, Cincinnati is resilient. Despite disappointing Bengals’ performances year after year, violent weather swings, and impossible hills, our city is proud, united and rejuvenating. Ask the “boomerang” Cincinnatians who did their five-year stints in Chicago or New York City. After living in a closet, riding the subway, and suffering from Skyline withdrawal, suddenly, Cincinnati doesn’t sound so bad after all. This is not to say that Cincinnati has it all figured out – far from it actually, but that’s why I want to stay here.

In Cincinnati, I see opportunity, growth, and potential. Behind our share of political and economic issues are leaders, professionals, and businesses united to propel Cincinnati forward. As I have learned through my co-op rotations, internships, and college courses, the necessary ingredient to our city’s future success is strong talent dedicated to the future of our city. Maybe it’s attributable to the German Catholic heritage or to the industrial roots, but nevertheless, Cincinnati welcomes and embraces natives and newcomers alike, to join a thriving community proud of its history and anticipating a bright future.

Mark Twain once said, “[w]hen the end of the world comes, I want to be in Cincinnati because it’s always 20 years behind the times.” Despite whether or not this held entirely true in the context of 1883, Twain’s comment may explain the apparent stigma of staying in Cincinnati ad vitum. However, I am still confident with my decision to stay in Cincinnati ... that is, of course, until I get lost on the West Side and find myself in Indiana.

Editorial published in the Cincinnati Enquirer, May 2016.

26% Increase Returns Cincinnati Law to Historic Enrollment Levels


Cincinnati, OH— It’s official. This fall, first-year enrollment at the University of Cincinnati College of Law, among the top 50 public law schools in the nation, saw a 26% increase over last year.*  With a first year class of 126 JD students, 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.

“I am very pleased to welcome a diverse and highly qualified class to join our law school community.   Our students come from 21 different states, 62 different colleges and 41 different majors.   In particular, I’m excited about our growing ties with the University of Cincinnati’s study body that has resulted in the enrollment of 25 “Double Bearcats” with two degrees from the University of Cincinnati and three “Triple Bearcats,” says Dean and Nippert Professor of Law Jennifer S. Bard.

In addition to the JD, the LLM Program, a year-long master’s degree program for internationally-trained attorneys and law graduates, continues to grow in size and in the quality and diversity of our students.  Now in its fifth year, this year the program has enrolled 18 attorneys from ten different countries including our first ever Fulbright Scholar. Since its inception, 50 attorneys from 23 countries have come to the law school to immerse themselves in the US legal system.

All of this positive enrollment news comes on the heels of recent notable accomplishments at the law school. The college’s Ohio Innocence Project/Lois and Richard Rosenthal Institute for Justice has just received a $15 million gift from Richard Rosenthal, the largest for the College and any innocence program in the country, which will provide for the program in perpetuity.  The University of Cincinnati Board of Trustees recently approved $1 million to fund a concept design for a new building, development of a probable cost for new construction and a relocation study while construction is underway.

“I attribute the increase in enrollment to an increase in awareness of the value of a Cincinnati Law degree,” explains Dean Bard.  “This is the third year in a row that we have been recognized as a best value school.  Employment outcomes continue to be strong; 80.7% of 2015 graduates obtained full-time, JD-required jobs within 10 months of graduation.  Moreover, our students are well prepared by our high quality faculty and our nationally recognized ‘learn by doing’ program.”

Indeed, for three consecutive years Cincinnati Law has been named a top school for practical training. The law school is ranked an A- school for students interested in public interest or criminal law, based on the depth of our curricular offerings. And, “the strength of our program is evident,” says Dean Bard. “Our high quality program reflects the strides we have made over the last several years in academic and career preparation. We are excited that others are also recognizing what is happening at Cincinnati Law.”

* Final enrollment numbers submitted for certification by the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar and the Law School Admissions Council as of October 5, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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About the University of Cincinnati College of Law

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

About the University of Cincinnati Foundation

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

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

OIP Receives Spirit of America Award


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

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

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