Oklahoma Justice Commission Enhancing The Reliability Of Convictions

Friday, March 1st 2013, 7:02 pm
By: News 9

Keeping innocent men and women from going to prison and freeing those who have been wrongfully convicted, that is the mission of the Oklahoma Justice Commission. On Friday, they're revealing new ways to insure justice is served.

On Friday, the Oklahoma Justice commission released a 104-page report outlining their findings and recommendations. It calls for better access to DNA evidence, for medical examiners to follow stricter requirements, and for all criminal confessions to be videotaped.

Read the complete report here

Turns out Oklahoma is ranked in the top 10 when it comes to the number of wrongfully convicted people who have been exonerated.

Oklahoma made national news back in April of 1999 when two innocent men were set free, after sitting in prison for more than decade.

Dennis Fritz, and Ron Williamson were exonerated, after DNA evidence cleared them of raping and murdering an Oklahoma woman back in 1988.

"I couldn't comprehend it," said Dennis Fritz, who has spent the past several years adjusting to life as a free man. "It was like it wasn't real!"

It was their case that inspired the book "An Innocent Man" by John Grisham and has encouraged Law Schools like the Sarkey's School of Law at OKC University to start the Oklahoma Innocence project.

"There have been dozens of cases in the USA where the true perpetrator has gone on to do more serious horrible crimes while the innocent person was in jail," said Dean Lawrence Hellman, the executive director of the Oklahoma Innocence Project, and is also a member of the Oklahoma Justice Commission.

Hellman says 25 percent of exonerations were people who actually confessed to the crime. So he says the Justice Commission came up with a series of reforms that have been undertaken in other states, to try to prevent wrongful convictions, like the ones that happened to Fritz and Williamson.

That's why people like former attorney General Drew Edmondson and current OKC police chief Bill Citty banded together on the Oklahoma Justice Commission to suggest changes.

"Not only in the interest of justice, but if the wrong guy is in prison, then that means the guy who really did it is out on the streets," said former Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson.

"We always want to try to do things better," Oklahoma City Police Chief Bill Citty said.

Right now, Oklahoma is the only state that does not have a law for those in prison to have a DNA test performed. That's something one lawmaker is trying to change with House Bill 1068, which would require that to happen.