Oklahoma Innocence Clinic Will Work To Free Wrongfully Accused

Wednesday, January 26th 2011, 10:25 pm
By: News 9

Dana Hertneky, News 9

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK -- The Innocence Project is coming to Oklahoma. Oklahoma City University Law school said it will launch the program in the fall.

Those associated with the project say statistics and experience show there are innocent people in Oklahoma prisons that will likely be exonerated because of this.

Ron Williamson was convicted of murdering an Oklahoma woman back in 1988 and was sentenced to death.

Dennis Fritz was convicted of the same crime and got life.

Jeffrey Pierce spent 15 years in prison for raping and robbing an Oklahoma City woman.

The men are just three of a handful of innocent Oklahomans wrongfully accused and later exonerated. Their stories led to growing support for an Oklahoma Innocence Project.

"I thought that someone needs to step forward to create a system to provide a recourse for people like Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz," said Larry Hellman, Dean of the OCU School of Law.

Now that will happen. OCU Law school has managed to raise the $1.5 million dollars to start an Innocence Clinic, where students, under the supervision of an attorney will investigate cases and work through the legal system.

"They'll turn over every rock to see if there is a credible claim to innocence and a legal remedy can be found," said Hellman.

To celebrate the opening of the OCU clinic, The Innocence Project's New York executive director Maddy deLone spoke to students and faculty.

She said Oklahoma was one of the few states with a significant prison population that didn't have an Innocence Project. In her experience more families and people reach out for help with a local clinic.

"You're much more likely to think someone here can help me rather than someone in New York City," said deLone.

DeLone believes lives will be changed and maybe like in the Williams Fritz case the real killer could be caught.

Dean Hellman said he has the support of the legal community, including prosecutors.

Even though the university has enough money to sustain the clinic for five years, they are still raising money to keep operating beyond that.

The Temptations will be playing at a fundraising gala called "A Night for the Innocent" on April 9. The gala will be held at the Skirvin Hotel and will include a reception, dinner and silent auction. For sponsorships, reservations and other information about the event, contact Joshua Snavely at (405) 208-5381 or email jsnavely@okcu.edu.