Last year was a busy year for students and volunteers in the Oklahoma Innocence Project. In 2017, we received an additional 39 requests for assistance and closed 68 cases. This brings the Oklahoma Innocence Project to over 1,500 total requests for assistance since opening its doors in August 2011. Given the 400 cases awaiting review and the numerous requests we receive for help, Andrea Miller, an Assistant Public Defender and our clinical professor, with the help of students enrolled in the Wrongful Conviction class, are continually reviewing case files to answer those requesting the Clinic’s help.
Student efforts are critical to the Clinic’s success and provide an invaluable experience to our future lawyers. For instance, in the case of Willard O’Neal, students discovered that some of the evidence collected at the 2001 crime scene was not submitted to a lab to obtain possible DNA evidence. A client of OKIP since its inception, Mr. O’Neal was convicted of murder based solely upon the uncorroborated preliminary hearing testimony of a woman whose guns were used in the murder. Upon our students learning that evidence had not been submitted for DNA testing, we filed a petition for post-conviction relief in Tulsa County in June 2015, and in September 2016, we filed a motion for post-conviction DNA testing.
The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation was able to obtain a DNA profile from some of the items of evidence collected, and one of our students was present when Willard gave a DNA sample to the investigator from the Tulsa County District Attorney’s Office. After waiting several weeks for the results, the OSBI issued a report excluding Willard as the contributor of the DNA evidence on the items in which the OSBI was able to obtain a DNA profile. While that was a significant development toward proving Willard’s innocence of the murder, it was not enough for the District Attorney’s Office to agree to release Willard. We continue to work on his case interviewing witnesses. We plan to amend the petition for post-conviction relief to include the DNA results and hope to have an evidentiary hearing on Willard’s petition in the fall.
Other cases we are investigating include Michelle Barry’s and James Kidwell’s. Ms. Barry was convicted in Latimer County in 2003 for the murder of her young daughter. We will file a new application for post-conviction DNA testing in Barry’s case and beleive that DNA evidence will prove someone else was in the house the night Ms. Barry’s baby was killed.
James Kidwell, a client of OKIP since 2011, was convicted of first degree murder in Tulsa County in 2004. Glenn Brown, a 2012 graduate and now practicing lawyer, is working on Mr. Kidwell’s case and is preparing a motion for post-conviction DNA testing. An expert analysis of the DNA evidence found that the initial DNA analysis and opinion were questionable. We believe that the new DNA analysis and its results will provide the basis for Mr. Kidwells’ request to for post- conviction relief.
While working on our current cases, we enjoy to continue hearing from our exonerees. DeMarchoe Carpenter came to the clinic earlier this semester and spoke with students about the importance of their work. He highlighted how OKIP believed in his and Malcom Scott’s claims of innocence and that the work the students did on their behalf was the only reason they are free men today. His words were both encouraging and inspirational for our students.
As the state’s only innocence project, our students receive a one-of-a-kind opportunity to gain practical experience with life-changing implications. Thank you for all you do in support of our work and for providing this opportunity to our students.