KANSAS CITY, Mo.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--The Midwest Innocence Project (MIP), a not-for-profit corporation dedicated to the investigation, litigation and exoneration of wrongfully convicted men and women, announces today that Friday, Oct. 2 marks the second-annual, international Wrongful Conviction Day. To commemorate the day, the MIP also announces new partnerships that expand its services to Iowa and Nebraska in addition to Missouri, Kansas and Arkansas, as well as a new hair microscopy testing project.
“Wrongful Conviction Day raises awareness of the diligent work the MIP and 68 similar organizations around the world do every day to free the falsely imprisoned,” said Oliver Burnette, executive director of the MIP.
On average, it takes seven to 10 years to exonerate an innocent prisoner, at an average cost of $325,000. The MIP is currently litigating six cases and has 600 cases on its waiting list. A report from the National Registry of Exonerations revealed 2014 as a record year, overturning 125 wrongful convictions in the United States, two of which in the Midwest (Missouri and Iowa).
“We have received more than 2,750 requests for assistance to date, with three to five new requests arriving each week,” said Tricia Bushnell, legal director of the MIP. “After a conviction, it takes many years for an innocent person to be exonerated and the process is very expensive. Resource constraints slow our work so we’re always seeking resources to work faster.”
Recent independent studies conservatively estimate that between 2 and 5 percent of inmates in the United States are innocent, with some estimates reaching up to 7 percent. Based on the approximately 72,000 people imprisoned in the MIP’s five-state area, this means that between 2,000 and 7,000 people are currently locked behind bars for crimes they did not commit.
To collaborate on cases, jointly fundraise and share work in a cost-efficient manner, the MIP also announces today its formal partnership with the Nebraska Innocence Project (NEIP) and the Innocence Project of Iowa (IPI). Based in Omaha since 2007, the NEIP is run by Tracy Hightower-Henne, a volunteer lawyer, who manages a 100-percent volunteer organization to exonerate the innocent. The IPI was also founded in 2007 by Iowa lawyer Brian Farrell and four other lawyers after attending a national innocence conference and meeting exonerees firsthand.
“Our immediate goal as partners with the NEIP and IPI is to begin joint fundraising to put the first paid lawyers on staff in Nebraska and Iowa,” said Burnette. “State Coordinators will not only increase work on our Nebraska and Iowa cases, but will allow support for some of the more than 600 cases on the MIP’s wait list in the entire five-state area.”
In addition to partnerships with the NEIP and the IPI, the MIP also partners with the University of Kansas School of Law in Lawrence, Kansas and the University of Missouri (Kansas City) and (Columbia) Schools of Law. These law schools provide invaluable student resources to assist with the research involved in complex cases.
One complexity being addressed by the MIP is a new hair microscopy review project. Recently, the FBI conducted an internal review of cases where its laboratory performed microscopic hair analysis after scientific advancements revealed flaws in the analysis used in cases, including the Midwest.
“After finishing its review of the first 300 cases, the FBI reported that improper testimony or lab reporting was presented in 96 percent of the reviewed cases involving hair microscopy,” said Bushnell.
Along with other regional Innocence Network member organizations, the MIP is now developing ways to identify and assess cases where hair analysis was used to convict a defendant through erroneous testimony or lab report of an examiner. As such, the MIP is seeking private donations to fund the first-year of the project, which costs $77,000. However, the project can officially begin by raising 25 percent (or $19,250). Any donation made will be matched (up to $25,000) by an anonymous donor.
“Anyone who donates money to the microscopic hair review project will directly support the review of Midwest cases that involved potentially flawed hair microscopy results and could end up freeing an innocent person from prison,” said Burnette.
About the Midwest Innocence Project
The Midwest Innocence Project (MIP) is a not-for-profit corporation dedicated to the investigation, litigation and exoneration of wrongfully convicted men and women in Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas, Iowa, and Nebraska. The Midwest Innocence Project was founded at the University of Missouri – Kansas City (UMKC) School of Law in 2000 as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation and operates today as an independent organization in partnership with UMKC, the University of Missouri – Columbia, the University of Kansas and local legal communities. The MIP is a licensed organization of the Innocence Project founded at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University in 1992 and works with 68 similar organizations around the world in coordinating legal work and education efforts. For more information, please visit www.themip.org.