October 2 was the fourth annual International Wrongful Conviction Day. Around the world, exonerees, attorneys, and activists spoke out about wrongful convictions, their impact on the innocent, and the causes that lead to people being sent to prison for crimes they did not commit.
Here in California, Death Penalty Focus worked with the California Innocence Project and the Loyola Project for the Innocent to raise awareness about the issue.
The California Innocence Project, which is based out of California Western School of Law in San Diego, held a panel discussion featuring its director, Justin Brooks, and exonerees Luis Vargas and Alan Gimenez. The panel was moderated by San Diego Union-Tribune investigative reporter Greg Moran.
“There is no longer any doubt that innocent people get sentenced to death,” said Brooks. “This is why it is so important to take time and look at both the death penalty and innocence and figure out how we can do better. Wrongful Conviction Day is the perfect time to do it.”
The Loyola Project for the Innocent, which is based out of Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, held two discussions on Wrongful Conviction Day. The first featured legal experts including DPF Chair Stephen Rohde, LPI Program Director Adam Grant, and Lindsay Battles of Kaye, McLane, Bednarski & Litt.
Panelist Rohde emphasized that “Death is different. All the flaws in the system that lead to wrongful convictions are magnified in capital cases. It is a scandal that the state is sentencing innocent people to death and is executing too many of them.” He added that “It is intolerable that in 2017, despite well-established evidence that the capital punishment system is riddled with fatal human flaws from police and prosecutorial misconduct to mistaken eyewitness identifications, from false confessions to judicial and juror error, from ineffective assistance of counsel to under-resourced defense counsel, and from racial to geographical disparities, we brazenly perpetuate a process in which men and women continue to be wrongly convicted and sent to death row . . . The risk of executing innocent people is too great for a society to bear if it is to remain true to the ideal of Equal Justice for All.”
Later in the afternoon, LPI hosted a second panel featuring exonerees Ruben Pinuelas, Gloria Killian, and Franky Carrillo, joined by Adam Grant again. Killian and Carrillo are both members of DPF’s Justice Advocates program, and Carrillo serves on the DPF Board of Directors.
To learn more about the California Innocence Project, please click here, and to learn more about the Loyola Project for the Innocent, please click here. You can learn more about DPF’s Justice Advocates program, including ways to request exoneree speakers, by clicking here.