Saturday, November 23, 2002

$100K raised for criminal reviews

By Sheila McLaughlin
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Organizers have raised $100,000 toward starting Ohio's Innocence Project.

That's $60,000 short of the goal to run the project - possibly out of the University of Cincinnati's Urban Justice Institute - for two years, institute director John Cranley announced at a fund-raiser Friday.

In the last decade, 115 inmates nationwide have been exonerated through the efforts of Innocence Projects, mainly through DNA testing.

About 100 lawyers and judges from state and federal courts turned out Friday for a $100-a-head affair at the Westin Hotel downtown.

The drawing card was Innocence Project founder Barry Scheck, who spoke of the urgency of getting started on cases before DNA evidence is routinely destroyed. The work of Innocence Projects can only bring about reform in the criminal justice system, he said.

"The effort to free the innocent is also about apprehending the guilty. It's also about protecting the public. It's also about good law enforcement," Mr. Scheck said. "Every time you convict that innocent person, the real person is out there committing more crime."

His 10-year-old Innocence Project in New York was instrumental in the release last year of two Ohio prisoners cleared by DNA evidence. On the ride from the airport to downtown Friday, Mr. Scheck said he had learned shortly before that DNA test results had just excluded the 116th inmate - Gene Bibbins, who has spent 15 years in a Louisiana prison for rape.

"Ohio is way behind," Mr. Scheck said. "I know there have to be many people. To make a statement like 100 (innocent) people is hardly an exaggeration."

Mr. Cranley said the Ohio project has drawn interest from Democrats and Republicans alike, even though it is considered a liberal cause.

"This is a great issue for our community to rally around," he said. "Nobody, liberal or conservative, wants people to be wrongly incarcerated," he said.

He said he's optimistic that UC will commit to the statewide project, which is expected to be operating in May or June.

The plan is for law students to receive college credit for screening requests, reviewing cases and tracking down evidence for DNA testing. Licensed attorneys would donate any legal work, but the cost of DNA testing would have to be paid by an inmate's family or others.


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