The past few weeks have been so monumental for the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project that I wanted to share some thoughts with you about what they mean for us and for our clients.
Two weeks ago, our staff of nine celebrated when we learned that the Norfolk Four – who’d been released but not freed in 2011 – finally had received an official declaration of innocence via an absolute pardon from Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe. This means that they are no longer living under harsh restrictions as registered sex offenders and finally have been declared innocent by the state.
And last Wednesday, I sat with our longtime client Chris Turner in the U.S. Supreme Court. Chris, one of seven defendants in the 8th & H case, is on parole and watched as the nation’s highest court debated his fate and the fate of the men convicted with him in 1985 in one of the highest-profile murder cases in DC history.
The two cases have a lot in common. They both involved a rush to judgment by police and prosecutors, devotion to theories that didn’t dovetail with the physical evidence, multiple false confessions, and evidence about alternative suspects that could have been helpful to the defense but was not turned over by prosecutors at trial.
They are both frustrating. In the Norfolk Four case, procedural barriers and tunnel vision kept authorities from considering and accepting incontrovertible evidence of innocence for more than a decade. And in 8th & H, we’ve been equally stymied by tunnel vision and the unwillingness of courts to consider some of our most powerful evidence of innocence – again for procedural reasons.
But they also are proof that when the MAIP team, our Board, and our incredible pro bono partners take on a case, we’re in it for the long haul and will do whatever it takes to free our innocent clients.
One of the things we can do for our clients it to keep sharing their stories. It matters. Neither the Norfolk Four nor the 8th & H defendants would be where they are today without journalists who told their stories and the stories of other wrongful convictions, and people who shared those stories.
We’re asking for your help with that today:
- Follow us on Facebook and Twitter if you don’t already.
- Check out the new stories we started publishing to Instagram and Medium.
- Share our posts and emails with friends, and send any feedback you have to me.
And keep spreading the word about cases like the Norfolk Four and 8th & H. The progress we’ve made in those cases proves that those stories matter and that they are slowly but surely beginning to convince people that the criminal justice system all too often makes mistakes.
—MAIP Executive Director Shawn Armbrust