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Righting wrongs

OCU law students are working to identify and remedy cases of wrongful conviction.

C.G. Niebank April 11th, 2012

Although it’s said justice is blind, and thus fair, mistakes are sometimes made — and innocent people are wrongfully convicted of crimes.

Tiffany Murphy

Since its inception in August 2011, the Oklahoma City University School of Law Oklahoma Innocence Project, or OIP, has been working to overturn wrongful convictions in Oklahoma.

“There are people who are completely, absolutely innocent of their charges who have been convicted and sentenced to prison for, often, very long periods of time,” said Tiffany Murphy, director of the OIP. “Many of these people have had no contact with the criminal justice system or minor brushes with the criminal justice system before, and they are now fighting for their lives.”

Murphy served previously in leadership roles at the Midwest Innocence Project in Kansas City, through which she managed legal clinic programs at University of Missouri law schools in Columbia and Kansas City.

Funded by private donations and grants, with its annual fundraising gala set for Thursday evening, the OIP serves as a training ground for select OCU law students, who do a significant share of work evaluating potential cases of wrongful conviction. Murphy said she and the OIP student volunteers are currently reviewing 12 such cases.

“[The students] work in teams and they’re responsible for developing all the factual and legal issues that could potentially be raised,” Murphy said. “I meet with the students, and we have class sessions where we discuss what needs to be done and make sure they are following up correctly. I would say they are very passionate and excited about what they’re doing.”

For third-year OCU law student Jarrett Woodfork, working on exoneration cases through the OIP is much more than a class.

“I look on it with a heightened level of responsibility, because it’s someone’s life,” Woodfork said. “I actually throw in extra hours when I’m home.”

As a potential aid to the OIP’s efforts, a state Senate committee recently approved House Bill 2652 to allow higher education programs and other private entities to use laboratory services at the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation for criminal case work. The measure awaits a full Senate vote.

“What people don’t realize is that during the course of our investigations, we find the people who actually committed these crimes,” Murphy said. “In a lot of cases, we’re actually able to give the police and the prosecution an idea of ‘Hey, you got the wrong guy, and here’s the guy you wanted to go after in the first place.’”

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