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Ohio Innocence Project Receives Grants to Fund, Expand Forensic Research Project

The Ohio Innocence Project at UC's College of Law will expand its efforts to review forensic records cases in its ongoing fight for the wrongfully convicted, thanks to grants received from the Department of Justice and the Estabrook Charitable Trust.

Date: 11/8/2017 5:00:00 PM
By: Sherry English
Phone: (513) 556-0060

UC ingot   The University of Cincinnati College of Law’s Ohio Innocence Project (OIP) has received two grants that will enhance its important work in the state. Together, the grants total $265,051.

The Department of Justice awarded the OIP $205, 051 for its proposed Forensic Review Project, which will examine 300-400 cases of retired Ohio forensic scientist Michelle Yezzo to determine whether she manufactured bogus or exaggerated test results to obtain convictions. If OIP identifies problematic cases, it will litigate them jointly with the Ohio Public Defenders office in hopes of freeing additional wrongfully-convicted persons.  The grant enables OIP to hire a forensic science review attorney to analyze decades of case work; all work will be supervised by Assistant Clinical Professor Donald Caster, and OIP Director Mark Godsey.

Awarding such a significant grant for reviewing convictions is not standard practice for the Department of Justice.  According to Godsey, DOJ funded only two additional grants of this nature this year, making OIP’s selection even more noteworthy.   “We are honored that the Department of Justice demonstrated this level of faith in our organization.  It is a testament to the hard work of so many students, staff, lawyers, donors--everyone who has made OIP what it is today,” said Godsey.

Studies of the incarceration of innocent individuals estimate that between 2.3% and 5% of all prisoners in the United States are innocent. Amazingly, if just 1% of all prisoners are innocent, then over 20,000 innocent people are in prison.  

OIP is one of the most well-known, recognized and successful innocence organizations in the nation. Through the efforts of OIP attorneys, staff and hundreds of clinic student fellows, 25 individuals have obtained their freedom on grounds of innocence to date.  Cumulatively, they have served more than 471 years in prison.  

The Forensic Review Project has a disturbing background, resulting from OIP’s work on the James Parsons case. Parsons, an exoneree, spent 22 years in prison for the murder of his wife. In the midst of the investigation, the OIP discovered that Yezzo, a lab technician with Ohio’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI), had produced very questionable, if not false, lab results which led to Parsons’s wrongful conviction.

The OIP will be working in conjunction with the OPD and the BCI to review these cases.   “It is wonderful that Ohio’s BCI, where Yezzo worked, has been open in sharing her case files with us.  Attorney General Mike DeWine should be credited, too,” said Godsey.  “After something like this happens, the last thing you want is government officials trying to hide things and prevent further examination.  The citizens of Ohio should appreciate the reactions of BCI and the Attorney General’s office in this matter.”

OIP Continues to Expand Efforts with Estabrook Charitable Trust Pledge
In addition to the DOJ grant, the OIP recognizes and thanks the Hubert A. & Gladys C. Estabrook Trust, long-time supporters of the OIP. Since 2001, the Hubert A. & Gladys C. Estabrook Trust has given or pledged $265,000 to the organization. This includes their most recent pledge of $60,000. “I want to thank the Estabrook Charitable Trust through Porter Wright Morris & Arthur LLC for their tremendous generosity over the years,” said Godsey. “It is because of the continued support of donors like you that the OIP can continue to expand its efforts to help the wrongfully convicted.”   These funds have been underwritten in part by Porter Wright Morris & Arthur LLC by means of a grant from the Estabrook Charitable Trust.