The Mississippi Innocence Project was established last year at the University of Mississippi School of Law, and has already contributed to two major exonerations in the state — those of Innocence Project clients Levon Brooks and Kennedy Brewer. Innocence Project Co-Director Peter Neufeld said this week that working with local partners like the MIP is a key element of successful exonerations.
"The truth is, you can only do so much from 1,000 miles away," Neufeld explained. "It really takes people on the ground in each state to make a difference. It's really remarkable that in such a short time, the Mississippi Innocence Project got itself started, got students interested, got the backing of the university and other lawyers in the state, and, within a very, very brief time, pulled off a very important exoneration here in the state."
The Mississippi project was created with funding from (author John) Grisham and attorney Wilbur Colom of Columbus. In fall 2007, Grisham joined fellow author Scott Turow at a dinner to raise operating funds for the state organization.
"There has been very little innocence activity in Mississippi," Grisham said. "Our state has a high rate of wrongful convictions, literally hundreds of innocent prisoners behind bars. These people are serving time for crimes committed by others, and in many cases the real criminals are still breaking the law.
The Mississippi Innocence Project also received a $75,000 grant this week from the state bar association to help with case review.