Oklahoma Innocence Project To Start Work Next Week
August 15, 2011
Program will work to exonerate wrongly convicted
The Oklahoma Innocence Project, an arm of Oklahoma City University School of Law, will officially begin work Aug. 15 with the start of the fall semester. The initial class of eight OCU LAW students will work alongside attorneys and the program’s director to identify and remedy wrongful conviction cases in Oklahoma.
The program recently changed its name from the Oklahoma Innocence Clinic to the Oklahoma Innocence Project (OIP) to represent its more comprehensive mission.
“The ‘Innocence Clinic’ is the class itself,” said OIP director Tiffany Murphy “By contrast, the ‘project’ refers to the scope of activity that will take place outside of the class, including investigation, litigation and other work.”
And that work will get underway quickly. The Oklahoma Innocence Project already has received more than 100 requests from incarcerated individuals asking that their cases be reviewed. The Oklahoma Innocence Project will only pursue cases in which there is credible evidence of actual innocence.
“This has been a very busy month setting up the Innocence Project,” said Murphy. “Now the students are back on campus and we begin the daunting work of reviewing the requests and selecting cases. It can be overwhelming because we receive so many requests. But this is such an enormous opportunity for the students who get to work on the cases.”
OIP students selected for the program must have completed a prerequisite class, Wrongful Convictions. The course was offered over the summer session for the first group of OIP students.
The Oklahoma Innocence Project also has a new home. It is based on the OCU campus in a 1,888-square-foot building that previously housed the university’s rowing team.
Displayed in the OIP offices is a painting by renowned American Indian artist Benjamin Harjo Jr. and created to pay homage to the program.
“I thought about what innocent souls must feel like after many years of being incarcerated, to finally achieve their freedom. In this painting I depicted the spirit of freedom — floating, flying, breaking the chains,” Harjo said when the painting was unveiled last spring.
“It is my hope that this painting … becomes the symbol that inspires future law students of Oklahoma City University and their quest for justice for the innocent.”
OIP is part of the Innocence Network, an affiliation of similar projects throughout the nation. Network members are committed to using significant resources to secure exonerations of wrongful convictions. The flagship of the network is the Innocence Project at New York’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University.
Until OIP, Oklahoma had been one of only a handful of states without a standing organization to evaluate post-conviction claims of innocence. There have been hundreds of exonerations throughout the United States, including 18 in Oklahoma.