WMU-Cooley Law School’s Innocence Project held a panel discussion on Sept. 15 with exonerees, who told their stories of wrongful conviction. The event was held to commemorate International Wrongful Conviction Day, which is Oct. 2. The day was created to raise awareness of the causes and remedies of wrongful conviction and to recognize the tremendous personal, social, and emotional costs of wrongful conviction for innocent people and their families.
During the discussion, exonerees Ken Nixon, 2021; Gilbert Poole, 2021; Corey McCall, 2021; George DeJesus and his brother Melvin DeJesus, 2022; and Ramon Ward, 2020, shared their stories of wrongful conviction. The exonerees expressed the bond they have created together and their thoughts on causes of, and statistics surrounding wrongful convictions.
While speaking to law students, George DeJesus said, “One thing for sure is that our lives are in your hands. We are counting on you attorneys to help us out.”
Pictured (left-right): exonerees Melvin DeJesus, Ken Nixon, and George DeJesus; WMU-Cooley Associate Dean Tracey Brame; and exonerees Corey McCall, Gilbert Poole, and Ramon Ward
DeJesus explained that in his case, his family didn’t have enough money to help put on a better defense. “As we tried to scrape the money up, the trial came along so fast and I was sent to prison.”
Nixon told law students that the integrity of the prosecutor’s office is important, but from his observation when new attorneys are hired they are expected to perform in the manner that prosecutors’ offices have always operated. “Be who you are and uphold justice,” said Nixon.
The WMU-Cooley Law School Innocence Project is the only post-conviction DNA innocence organization in the state. Since its inception, the office has screened over 6,000 cases and is responsible for the exoneration of eight individuals: Kenneth Wyniemko (2003), Nathaniel Hatchett (2008), Donya Davis (2014), LeDura Watkins (2017), Nixon, Poole, McCall, and George DeJesus. The project is staffed by WMU-Cooley Law School students, who work under the supervision of WMU-Cooley Innocence Project attorneys. Those interested in donating and supporting the work of the WMU-Cooley Innocence Project can do so at cooley.edu/academics/experiential-learning/innocence-project.
In its ninth year, Wrongful Conviction Day began as an effort of the Innocence Network, an affiliation of organizations dedicated to providing pro-bono legal and investigative services to individuals seeking to prove innocence of crimes for which they have been convicted, working to redress the causes of wrongful convictions, and supporting the exonerated after they are freed.