In coincidence with the second annual International Wrongful Conviction Day, the University of Cincinnati’s Board of Trustees meeting Wednesday presented a collaborative effort between UC’s College of Law and the Ohio Innocence Project (OIP).
The international day of recognition Oct. 2 acknowledged the lives of those who have been adversely impacted by wrongful conviction and educates the public on those issues.
Founded out of UC’s College of Law and a branch of the national Innocence Network, the OIP has freed over 23 Ohioans wrongly sentenced for crimes. OIP-u was launched as the primary component of UC law schools’ Rosenthal Institute for Justice
OIP-u was created by Richard Rosenthal, UC chairman and co-founder of the Rosenthal Institute for Justice, to give undergraduate and graduate students in the state a way to become involved and free the wrongfully incarcerated people of Ohio.
“You have a jewel here,” Rosenthal said. “In organizing, planning, supporting and the superlative work, I have no words.”
Innocence project initiatives have become worldwide and the U.S. has freed over 250 inmates to date, said Mark Godsey, UC professor of law and OIP co-founder.
Godsey said the program sustains a collegiate network of innocence advocates within a university level.
“Even law students can tackle this problem, and that’s our goal,” Godsey said. “The University of Cincinnati is at the forefront of this issue.”
Six Ohioans were released from prison last November through March due to the workings of this program. Three of the six served time on Death Row, said Katie Lucas, an OIP-u official and UC law student.
“Becoming a lawyer means becoming an advocate,” Lucas said.
Dean Gillespie, who was freed by OIP after 20 years in the system, said the amount of people OIP represents is greater than the amount actually seen.
“These people are actually saving lives, and I don’t think you can do anything better than that in your life,” Gillepsie said.
Gillepsie’s case was different than other cases OIP has taken on, due to proving his innocence without the use of DNA evidence — a major testing factor in the program that proves wrongful court sentences.
The national Innocence Network has been established as a check and balance within the court system, after court rulings have already been established.
Rosenthal added the universities’ OIP-u program still needs additional funding and should require more detective work for law student engagement.
OIP-u was instituted to increase the number of law students on campus and give them a hands-on learning approach.
UC has seen a 38 percent boost in the College of Law’s first-year enrollments since the 2014-15 academic year, according to Godsey.
“Not many people know that the University of Cincinnati, in terms of ranking and placement, we are within the top of our country,” said President Santa Ono at the meeting. “You can put us against anyone and we can complete on an institutional level.”