Ohio Innocence Project talks about grueling work of freeing wrongfully convicted inmates

Posted at 7:07 PM, May 18, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-19 09:36:42-04

Lawyers with the Ohio Innocence Project have helped free more than two dozen inmates, who were unjustly imprisoned for crimes they did not commit.

The lawyers talked exclusively to News 5 about how they sort through thousands of cases and narrow down who they are going to represent.

More than 8,000 inmates have requested help, claiming they are innocent.

Lawyer Jennifer Bergeron talked about her most recent case of Evin King who was released in Cleveland last month.

“He wrote to us and asked us to assist him, and that's when we got additional experts to look at it,” said Bergeron.

Bergeron said King was unable to get his murder verdict reversed with his old lawyer, despite having new DNA tests pointing to another killer.

“They come in. Some of them, you can tell right off the bat, they're not good cases. Others, you have to do a little bit of work, and then you find out it's not a good case, and then some of them, just keep lasting and lasting,” said Mark Godsey, Ohio Innocence Project Director.

Godsey said those are the cases, where the more they dig, they get closer to the conclusion that 'wow, this person may really be innocent.'

He called DNA evidence, the gold standard, “because it's sort of quick, it's conclusive and clear.”

However, that's not always the case.

“It’s always so hard when you go to visit someone, and you believe because the evidence points to the fact that they're innocent and you leave them there,” said Jennifer Bergeron.

There are a number of reasons why some cases do not get a second or third look.

“The evidence was destroyed, 25 years have passed, witnesses are dead,” said Mark Godsey, “those are the really heartbreaking cases.”

Out of 8,000 plus requests, the Ohio Innocence Project at the UC College of Law has only taken up about 160 cases to court. Out of those, only 25 inmates have been freed.

Godsey said the system pushes back. He told News 5 that many prosecutors and judges do not want to admit a mistake has been made.

“Every time you wrongfully convict someone, the guilty party is still out on the street, committing more crimes. It's a double whammy,” he said, “Who wants to admit in their courtroom that somebody was wrongfully convicted 10 years ago?”

Bergeron mentioned that sometimes, after months of digging, there are cases where an inmate, who they thought could be innocent, turns out to be actually guilty.

She said the situation can be frustrating, but she also feels a sense of relief when that happens, because it means our justice system is working and the right person is behind bars.

In Evin King's case, he was found guilty of murdering his girlfriend Crystal Hudson, more than 20 years ago.

RELATED: Evin King freed after being wrongly convicted for killing girlfriend 23 years ago

Updated DNA testing and expert witnesses helped set him free, back on April 19th this year. He profusely thanked Bergeon and the whole Ohio Innocence Project team.

“Work that they did, can ever be replaced,” said King, “We're joined at the hip for life.”

Both Bergeron and Godsey said it's a tough job, knowing these inmates are depending on them. However, it's all worth it when they witness the difference they are making on these inmate’s lives.

“One of the greatest things you can experience being an attorney,” said Godsey.


Link to Evin King's GoFundMe page: