News 03.29.08

Innocence Network Conference Day Two

At today's opening session, a panel of experts explored the relationship between the innocence movement and victims of crime. There is consensus between the groups working to end wrongful convictions and others that provide services to victims that justice is not served when we send people to prison for crimes they didn't commit. Overturning wrongful convictions is a common interest of both groups.

But much of today's session focused on communication between defense attorneys, district attorneys and victims and their families while an active case is played out on appeal. In these cases, we are faced with a question: how do groups working to exonerate the innocent ensure that the victims of crimes in wrongful conviction cases are not forced to relive the crimes they suffered when a person is exonerated and, potentially, another suspect is tried?

This morning's panel offered some answers. The panel was moderated by Wisconsin Innocence Project Co-Director John Pray, and also included Christy Sheppard, whose cousin was murdered in Oklahoma in the case in which Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz were wrongfully convicted. Also on the panel were Elizabeth Barnhill of the Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault and Mary Lou Leary of the National Center for Victims of Crime.

Christy Sheppard spoke about the shock her family suffered when they learned from news reports that the two men convicted of killing her cousin had been proven innocent by DNA testing and would be exonerated. Innocence Network organizations are working to ensure that this doesn't happen in future exonerations. Although an exoneration often causes trauma for the victim and the victim's family, panel members this morning agreed that it's vital for channels of communication to be open so the news doesn't come as a surprise.

The Innocence Project has worked with Sheppard, other victims and family members, and district attorney's officers, on bringing all parties to the table to overturn wrongful convictions and attempt to communicate with victims about appellate procedures.

Read more about the Innocence Project's work with victims and victims' right groups here

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The Innocence Network conference continues through tomorrow.

Learn more about the Innocence Network here

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