Innocence Project Teams With Metro Law School
By Dave Jordan, NEWS 9
OKLAHOMA CITY -- An Oklahoma law school wants to make sure innocent people are not put behind bars. That's why the school is teaming up with the non-profit group the Innocence Project, which has helped overturn nearly 300 convictions in the last two decades.
The Innocence Project has a number of affiliates at law schools across the country and Oklahoma City University's School of Law is hoping to have one up and running within two years. Oklahoma is no stranger to wrongful convictions which is why the school says this program is needed.
It took 11 years for the courts to figure out what Dennis Fritz and Ron Williamson already knew that they were falsely convicted of murdering an Oklahoma waitress. Williamson spent most of his time on death row before DNA evidence cleared both men.
"It's very important to identify the cases where the system did go haywire," Lawrence Hellman, Dean of Oklahoma City University's School of Law, said.
It was the work of the Innocence Project that freed both Fritz and Williamson. Working with law schools across the country, that non-profit group reviews cases where questionable evidence led to incarceration of hundreds of men. Hellman wants to open a chapter of the project at OCU.
"We're looking for the needles in a haystack where a mistake has been made, an innocent person has been convicted and we want to bring justice, not only to the wrongfully convicted person, but actually to the victim of the crime," Hellman said.
The high profile case, which made headlines back in the '80s, is now the subject of a best selling non-fiction book by John Grisham. Grisham is slated to attend a fundraiser for OCU next month. Organizers are hoping to raise about $2 million to get the program off the ground.
"When the wrong person is convicted of a crime, that means that the true perpetrator is still free and at large to do further damage," Hellman said.
By the way, another man was convicted of that murder using the same DNA evidence that cleared Fritz and Williamson.
Hellman says he has already received support for the project from law enforcement authorities and even some prosecutors.