Ohio Innocence Project starts Xavier group The project focuses on justice for wrongful convictions

By: Erica Lampert ~Staff Writer~

Ohio Innocence Project has wanted to create an undergraduate group here at Xavier for several years to advocate for wrongful convictions in the criminal justice system. With the help of the Phi Alpha Delta Law Fraternity’s President Lauren Morris, this will finally become a reality.

The project is based out of the University of Cincinnati’s law school and consists of a team of students and lawyers who help those who have been wrongly convicted.

“This group normally works on cases involving false confessions or cases where there is not enough DNA evidence to convict a person,” Morris said. “The group does this in order to try and see who is actually innocent, if anyone has gotten time for crimes they weren’t involved in whatsoever.”

The project has decided to create an undergraduate network in order to branch out to other schools in Ohio and to advocate for the social justice of wrongful convictions. So far, it has created groups at other universities in the country, like Duke University and the University of Virginia.

“Right now we are just trying to start the group on campus,” Morris said. “We don’t know if the group will become a club or not, but right now we have Cheryl Jonson, a criminal justice professor, and Sean Rhiney from the Eigel Center who are working together as advisers for the group.”

When working with undergraduates, the project hopes to bring in various speakers to help them advocate for those who are wrongfully convicted and commemorate the work they have already accomplished.

Ohio Innocence Project’s first event will be held at 7 p.m. tomorrow in the Arrupe Lookout. A member of Laura Nirider’s team, Steve Drizin, will speak. Nirider was the post-conviction attorney for Brendan Dassey, who was profiled on Making a Murderer, and is the nephew of Stephen Avery, the subject of the documentary.

“He will present on false confessions and manipulation, through interrogations, of those who are mentally handicapped or underage just as Brendan had been,” Morris said. “It’s really sad, his whole story. He is currently still incarcerated, and they are still currently fighting to get him out.”

The group is hoping to bring in several big name speakers from other Innocence Projects around the country in addition to this first event. In the past, the group has had exonerees, lawyers and students come and give presentations about their work to help enlighten those who know little on the topic.

“This group is focused mostly on advocating since some people don’t have any knowledge of wrongful convictions,” Morris said. “So we are just trying to form this group for that.”

Other possibilities for future events, such as food or clothing drives, are currently being discussed in the group, and it hopes to hear more ideas from Xavier’s student body.

“The Ohio Innocence Project covers a whole range of topics, not just the criminal justice system. It can cover race, class, social justice and even politics,” Morris said. “So even though Ohio Innocence Project seems like a criminal justice topic, it is not limited to any major. We want other people from other majors to come in and bring diversity to the group.”

After the initial event, the group is planning on having an informational meeting at the end of March for anyone who is interested in joining the group or taking it over once the current members graduate. Those interested can email Morris at morrisl@xavier.edu for more information.