donate

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Drumming Up Justice: Oklahoma Innocence Project..

Drumming up justice: Oklahoma Innocence Project seeks funds to help wrongfully convicted

by Molly Fleming
The Journal Record
posted September 3, 2014
OKLAHOMA CITY – Since the Oklahoma Innocence Project started in 2011, it has received requests from 1,026 people who want help.
“That number for me is a big problem because it shows there are a lot of individuals out there that think they are wrongfully convicted,” said Christina Green, interim director of the OIP.
The Oklahoma City University School of Law-based project has opened 191 cases, with two in active litigation. Green said the organization wants to hire more staff members and take on more cases, but money always becomes an issue.
The OIP is funded by private donors and receives no grants or federal money. To help increase its finances, the law school will host a fundraising event, A Night for the Innocent, Sept. 26 at Will Rogers Theatre.
Brook Arbeitman, the law school’s director of marketing and communications, said there isn’t an exact fundraising goal because the cost of each case can be so dramatically different that it’s hard to predict what those expenses will be in advance.
“Every single dollar helps, and every dollar can help change a life,” she said.
For example, Green has worked on Malcolm Scott’s case since 2011. She filed a brief for post-conviction relief in February 2014. Scott was convicted of the 1994 murder of Tulsa’s Karen Summers. Since 2011, litigation for his case has cost $20,000, and Green expects that amount to double by the time she’s finished.
The OIP is also working to exonerate Karl Fontenot, who was accused of the 1994 murder, robbery and kidnapping of Ada’s Donna Denice Haraway. Those litigation costs total $100,000 to date.
Arbeitman said the project expects to file a third case in January. That case is expected to have similar costs as Scott’s, since several experts will be used. The three cases are just the start of the project’s work, with the state ranked No. 5 in wrongful convictions, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. The bureau has also ranked the state in the top 10 for the number of incarcerated men and women.
Since 1989, there have been 1,409 exonerations nationwide, with 27 being from Oklahoma.
Antoine Day of Chicago knows what it’s like to be convicted of a crime he knew he didn’t commit. In 1990, two men were shot outside a Chicago liquor store, and one later died. Day was accused of being a shooter and sentenced to prison. In 2001, his case was retried and it was revealed that he was not involved with the crime. He was released in May 2002.
Day is now the drummer in the band Exoneree, a group made up of exonerated musicians. The group will perform at the OIP fundraiser. He said he’s been playing drums since he was 8 years old.
“I like to make a lot of noise,” he said. “I like the rhythm of the drums.”
Day was one of the group’s founding members after they decided their musical talents would be a good way to help people.
“We thought it would make sense to have a group of musicians that’s been through the same thing in different places to come together and create one sound,” he said. “It’s become a brothership. Being an exonerated person, we have an opportunity to give back. We come back and we share this joy of being free.”
The fundraiser will also include OCU School of Law presenting its Beacon of Justice Award to Ronald Cotton and Jennifer Thompson. The recipients are from North Carolina and were once fighting against each other. Thompson was raped when she was a 22-year-old college student. She accused Cotton of the crime, but he was eventually freed after DNA tests proved he was not the perpetrator. They wrote the New York Timesbest-seller Picking Cotton, and now travel the country speaking about their experiences.
Faulty forensic science, as in Cotton’s case, is a main reason people are wrongfully accused, according to the national Innocence Project. Other reasons include eyewitness misidentification, false confession, prosecutorial misconduct or police misconduct, and ineffective attorneys’ assistance.
That’s why Green wants to keep fighting for Fontenot, Scott and others. The project just needs the funds for her to complete her mission. Event tickets are $100, and sponsorships are also available.
“It matters to me on a personal level because I don’t feel people should be punished for things they didn’t do,” she said. “That’s a big injustice. That’s something I can’t live with myself. It makes my heart hurt to see someone suffer for something someone else did.”

No comments:

Post a Comment