Wrongful Conviction Day

Nearly 2,100 people have been exonerated from prison since 1989 for crimes they did not commit, almost 2 people per week! National Wrongful Conviction
Day aims to inform and educate the broader community on the causes and consequences of wrongful convictions.

Join us on October 2nd to honor the wrongfully convicted and to hear from various members of the criminal justice community on wrongful convictions, how they occur, and what we can do to help prevent them from happening.

October 2, 2017 5:30 – 7:30pm th Beus Center for Law & Society 5
Floor, Room 544

Wrongful Convction Day Flyer

Tri-Valley Dispatch

“Arizona Justice Project works to free wrongly imprisoned”

Audience: 18,646
Author: Lauren Renteria
Source Website: www.pinalcentral.com/trivalley_dispatch
By LAUREN RENTERIA

Arizona Sonora News
Apr 4, 2017

TUCSON a ” In the fall of 2011, Khalil Rushdan walked out of prison a free man.

Rushdan had served 15 years of a 25-year sentence following his conviction for first-degree felony murder in 1997. That year, Rushdan wasn’t alone when he became a free man. He was one of the 74 people exonerated in the U.S., according to the National Registry for Exonerations.

His story, like so many others, is complex.

In 1993, Rushdan worked as a middleman for drug dealers and sellers in Tucson. What started as a regular deal quickly turned to violence.

Rushdan had left the buyers and seller alone for the transaction and when he returned, one of the buyers had shot and killed the seller.

“I come back to the house to lock up and make sure that nothing was left behind, to clean up,” said Rushdan, now 38. “And, I see them carrying the guy out. It was shocking on a lot of levels because you hear about it but you never think it can happen to you. You know people, or you think you know people.”

Rushdan fled and it took months for the police to catch up to him, but once the killer went on trial, he agreed to testify as a witness for the prosecution. But, when Rushdan and his family where met with death threats from the killer’s associates, he refused to testify. The killer was acquitted.

Months later, Rushdan was arrested in Ohio a ” he had an outstanding warrant for his arrest in Pima County for felony murder. Under Arizona law, individuals can be prosecuted for murder even if they are only indirectly involved.

In Rushdan’s case, he had set up the meeting between the two parties, making him legally responsible for the killing. Rushdan was put on trial after the killer was acquitted and after he refused to testify for the prosecution.

Convicted and sentenced to 25 years in prison, Rushdan never thought about bringing his case to the Arizona Justice Project until another inmate convinced him to do so. The project worked to free Rushdan on the grounds of prosecutorial vindictiveness a ” with the project arguing that the prosecution targeted Rushdan after he used his legal right to refuse to testify.

Since the late 1900s, attorneys across the country have formed local organizations dedicated to freeing the innocent and wrongly imprisoned. In 1998, Larry Hammond, an Arizona defense attorney, started the Arizona Justice Project and it became only the fifth of its kind in the country.

Today, there are more than 60 similar organizations across the country.

The project started as a group of attorneys hoping to make a difference in the criminal justice system. Over the years, it’s become one of the main offices that handles cases like Rushdan’s, according to Lindsay Herf, the executive director of the project’s anagement team.

Rushdan is one of 21 individuals exonerated with help from the project since 1998, and one of 1,020 exonerees since 1989 released due to official misconduct, according to the National Registry for Exonerations.

The project doesn’t work only with cases that involve official misconduct, but also with those that involve a claim of innocence. Since 1998, the office has received about 5,000 requests for assistance.

“Most are low-income people, which is probably the majority of people that go through the justice system,” Herf said. “People who do not have the resources or funding to get experts and hire other attorneys or that type of thing.”

Right now, the team has 35 cases with three in court and another three in parole hearings. Investigating each case is no easy task. One of the first tasks for the office is working with experts to see if there is enough evidence to go through with the appeals process.

“Cases 10 years ago, that we didn’t think we could do much with, we are now re-examining,” she said.

Much of the work that Herf and her colleagues do is investigating the cases to see if there is additional witness testimony and physical evidence like DNA.

The exoneration rate has increased rapidly over the past decade. In 2001, 90 individuals were exonerated. In 2016, 160 people found their freedom, the highest year on record.

With a steady increase in exonerations, prosecution offices are starting to look at local claims of innocence and wrongful imprisonment with organized conviction integrity units, or CIUs. Employees are tasked with investigating claims and working with local experts to uncover any new evidence.

Since 2011, these units have increased by almost five times. Now there are 29 established CIUs across the country and a record 70 exonerations took place because of CIU involvement, according to the Nation Registry of Exonerations.

The Pima County Attorney’s Office and other prosecution offices across the country have been doing this kind of work for years only without a designated CIU, said Rick Unklesbay, chief trial counsel.

Unklesbay has been with the office since 1981 but retired in 2010. In 2014, Unklesbay decided to take on a part-time position as the leader, founder and sole member of Arizona’s only CIU that works closely with the Arizona Justice Project.

“I got intrigued with the idea and talked to (the Pima County Attorney) about it, and we thought, ‘Yeah, we should put this in a unit in the office,’ ” Unklesbay said.

Before Unklesbay started the unit, there wasn’t an organized place to have claims investigated. But since the office opened, Unklesbay said only 50 cases have been filed for review, which is why the unit is a one-person show.

“It hasn’t been the avalanche of cases that I expected to come in,” he said.

Unklesbay said he thinks the reason these units are only now popping up is the attitude some prosecution offices have toward investigating claims of innocence and wrongful imprisonment.

Unklesbay said some offices might think that it isn’t the prosecution’s job to investigate these claims a ” or, because they already do investigate, there is no need for an actual unit.

“I think the advantage of having a unit is that there’s some specific place it goes to and there’s a person who’s tasked with looking at these cases as opposed to randomly assigning them to somebody in the office,” Unklesbay said.

In the end, Unklesbay said he thinks the burden does rest on the prosecution to investigate all of these claims.

“We started not because we felt that there were big problems, but if there are problems,” Unklesbay said. “We want to make sure we correct those problems.”

For Rushdan and others like him, organizations such as the Arizona Justice Project and prosecution offices with CIUs give the wrongfully imprisoned a second chance. It’s been five years since his release, and he has turned his life around.

Rushdan is an artist. He designs T-shirts to promote re-entry awareness. He said he hopes to sell the desert-themed shirts to help fund his own art and re-entry programs. He also works as a mentor and counselor for individuals re-entering society.

After prison, Rushdan said getting back into society didn’t come easy. He was lost when it came to finding a job, technology and getting used to the future he was thrust into. Rushdan hopes the work he does now will keep others from going through the hardship he went through coming back from prison.

“I’ll be happy knowing that I gave people effective programming and people can immediately start seeing the change,” he said.

A(c) Copyright 2017 Casa Grande Valley Newspapers Inc., 200 W. 2nd St. Casa Grande, AZA

Audience provided by Nielsen/NetRatings

Highlights: Larry Hammond

INNOCENCE CONFERENCE 2017

Every year people from all over the United States and indeed, the world, come together to celebrate the lives of those people who have been released after years of wrongful imprisonment. They come to learn about legislative, scientific, social and legal issues related to wrongful arrests and convictions and to share information about ways in which their Projects function to address the complex issues involved in this valuable endeavor.

Read the entire article here.

Southwest of Salem

How Hysteria, Prejudice, and Lies led to the Wrongful Conviction of four Latina Lesbians

The Story of the San Antonio Four excavates the nightmarish persecution of Elizabeth Ramirez, Cassandra Rivera, Kristie Mayhugh, and Anna Vasquez – four Latina lesbians convicted of gang-raping two little girls in San Antonio, Texas and their 15 year journey to ultimately prove their innocence.

Following the film, we will have a panel discussion with one of the films exonerees Anna Vasquez, AJP E.D. Lindsay Herf, a rep. from Trans Queer Pueblo and ACLU of AZ Legal Director Kathy Brody.

Event Date & Time: Tuesday, March 28, 2017 @ 6pm

RSVP for this event here

Eddie Collins is Home After 44 Years in Prison

Tucson, AZ – This morning Eddie Collins returned home to his family after serving more than 43 years in prison. Collins, who has been a Justice Project client for 12 years, was serving time for a 1973 felony murder conviction. Collins’ brother was the actual shooter and, pursuant to a plea agreement, served only 10 years for the crime.

Collins was convicted under Arizona’s 1956 criminal code which made him ineligible for parole. The Justice Project worked with the Pima County Conviction Integrity Unit in an effort to correct a manifest injustice. Prosecutor Rick Unklesbay, head of the Unit, reviewed the case and agreed to a re-sentencing for Collins which made Collins parole eligible and gave him an opportunity to return home. Justice Project attorneys Katie Puzauskas and Kindra Helferich and University of Arizona law professor Andy Silverman represented Collins at his parole hearings.

Mr. Collins will be living with his sister, who has remained at the core of his support group for over four decades. We are thrilled that Mr. Collins is finally returning home.

Since 1998, The Arizona Justice Project has been working to prevent and overturn wrongful convictions in the State of Arizona. The Arizona Justice Project has launched legal clinics at the ASU and UofA law schools where law students review and investigate claims of wrongful conviction. The Arizona Justice Project receives approximately 350 new requests for help each year from Arizona inmates. The small staff and dedicated volunteers provide the last resource for many people seeking relief from a wrongful conviction or a manifest injustice.

Read more here

2016 Annual Review

Exonerating the innocent. Correcting cases of manifest injustice. The impact of the Arizona Justice Project’s impact is realized throughout the year in the people whose lives are immeasurably changed. Yet, within the pages of the Project’s 2016 Annual Report, this is where it all comes together to demonstrate the depth of the difference being made on a broad scale. Receiving nearly 400 requests for assistance in 2016, it is no small fete to pre-screen review, conduct fact investigations, and litigate in court or provide representation in front of the Arizona Board of Executive Clemency.

There’s much to celebrate at the Project: Our accomplishments that include our growing outreach efforts to educate and inform the community on issues related to wrongful convictions. Our recent move to the Beus Center for Law & Society, the new home to the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University. But in the end, it all comes down to the teams at AJP who are inspired by its mission of service to others every day. From the Administrators, board members, and office staffs, to the case workers, Re-Entry Team, Post-Conviction Clinic, interns, pro bono partners, creative partners and more, they’re proud to work together to seek justice for the innocent and wrongfully imprisoned – the marginalized and forgotten of Arizona’s criminal justice system.

View our 2016 Annual Review

ASU students collaborate on solutions for successful inmate re-entry

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For juveniles who have been serving a life sentence, release from prison is a welcome but daunting day.

“Often they are let go with a packet of information, much out of date or not easily understood,” said Shira Zias, a graduate student in the Arizona State University School of Social Work. “Lawyers are focused on client defense and wouldn’t necessarily have the in-depth knowledge or time to help research resources for clients.” Justice project student team A group of students hopes to help further efforts of the Arizona Justice Project by putting plans and support in place for people who are being released from prison. Photo by Andres Guerra Luz/ASU Download Full Image

Zias is part of a collaborative initiative to better prepare people upon release from prison. The goal is to stop what can be a revolving door.

“Going through their files, we can see from a social work perspective what wasn’t there that was needed, and see what could have been done to prevent the situation,” said Husain Lateef, a doctoral student in the School of Social Work, who is also serving as the field instructor for the project. “Our role is, in the event the individual is granted parole, to develop a re-entry plan so that the pitfalls that created the situation don’t happen again.”

Building on an existing partnership between the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law and the Arizona Justice Project, this year social work students joined a team of post-conviction lawyers to bridge the gap between release and re-entry.

The project was initiated by Jose Ashford, professor in the School of Social Work and director of the Office of Offender Diversion and Sentencing Solutions which employs research-practice collaborations to promote reform in the treatment of offenders in the justice system.

“These are people who have spent years being told what to do and when. They don’t even have control over when to turn on and off the lights,” said Rachel Williams, who is pursuing a degree in public service and public policy with a concentration in social services delivery.

The team has several clients who are incarcerated, plus others who have been released.

“One of the biggest challenges is formulating a realistic plan,” said Graham Reilly, also a social work student. “We help them put together a plan that fits their individual challenges and needs.”

Without plans that realistically address potential risk factors, it is unlikely that the Arizona Board of Clemency would consider the inmates suitable candidates for release.

Students learn to use holistic principles of defense and develop evidence-based support plans, along with a strategy for longer term community support.

“Holistic defense is relatively new in social work,” Ashford said. “This project promotes interprofessional education in post-conviction areas of law, which is new to the field of indigent-legal defense.”

Lateef noted that every discipline has its own culture, “but those conversations help to make a better situation for the client involved. We are learning from each other.”

The team evaluates each client’s situation, including goals such as employment and housing. They are also the ‘eyes and ears’ for clients in prison, helping to research housing options, social services and provide a support system for those who may not have family support in place.

“They are intelligent people but they have lost their confidence,” Reilly added, noting one client who was having trouble with employment.

It was a simple matter of transportation.

“You don’t think about the fact that someone in prison for more than 40 years might not know how to ride the bus,” Reilly said. “I offered to come with her and that made all the difference.”

The team recently had the chance to put their plan to the test at a client’s clemency hearings. He had been in prison for 43 years, convicted of a murder that was committed by someone else.

His case was representative of those that Arizona Justice Project seeks out with a mission of “exonerating the innocent and correcting cases of manifest injustice in the criminal justice system.”

“We met with the client and using a bio-psycho-social approach, worked to figure out not only more about his social history but also identifying the things he would need if he were granted parole,” Lateef added.

“This was the first time the board had seen a re-entry team, so there were a lot of questions,” Lateef said. “Overall, the feedback was very exciting—and they seemed to be excited that we would be helping with something that people need.”

“Their expertise, and professor Ashford’s guidance, is invaluable and has been the missing piece of our work for a long time,” said Katie Puzauskas, supervising legal clinic attorney for the Post-Conviction Clinic in the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law.

The group said that in this case their client was fortunate to have a lot of support. He was granted house arrest. The re-entry team will continue to work with him.

“This outcome probably would not have been achieved without the hard work of our students on designing a plan for release that assuaged the Board’s concerns about the offender’s future risk to the community,” Ashford said.

To ensure continuity of services and reduce the learning gap that can happen, students starting their internship next semester will meet with interns this semester so that they can get familiar with the process. Current interns will also stay on for the next semester in a rolling format.

“I would like to see this expand beyond prisons,” Reilly said. “For example, re-entry resources in jails are minimal, but rather than just sending people back to the same neighborhood with the same challenges, we can put the tools in place to make them more successful.”

Lateef added, “You see the things on paper. Then you meet the person and spend hours together and realize that this person is in many ways just like you, but has had been dealt some bad cards. It is a possibility for anybody. You realize that we share a common humanity.”

Client Eddie Collins is Coming Home

This week, 12 years of trying to navigate a path to freedom for one of our long time clients – Eddie Collins – a beam of light broke through! The Arizona Board of Executive Clemency voted for his release. Collins will return home after 43 YEARS in prison for a murder conviction – where his brother was the actual shooter, the brother took a plea to 10 years and was released years ago.

eddie-collin-supporter

Arizona Justice Project Client, Eddie Collins, is Coming Home After 43 Years in Prison

Phoenix, AZ – This morning, the Arizona Board of Executive Clemency unanimously voted that Arizona Justice Project client Eddie Collins be released and return home after serving more than 43 years in prison. Collins, who has been an Arizona Justice Project client for 12 years, was serving time for a 1973 felony murder conviction. Collins’ brother was the actual shooter and, pursuant to a plea agreement, served only 10 years for the crime. Arizona Justice Project attorneys asked for an absolute discharge, or in the alternative, parole for Collins. The Board did not vote for absolute discharge but granted Collins’ release on home arrest. After six months, Collins may return to the board to ask for parole or absolute discharge.

Collins was convicted under Arizona’s 1956 criminal code which made him ineligible for parole. The Arizona Justice Project worked with the Pima County Conviction Integrity Unit in an effort to correct a manifest injustice. Prosecutor Rick Unklesbay, head of the Unit, reviewed the case and agreed to a re-sentencing for Collins which made Collins parole eligible and gave him an opportunity to return home. Mr. Unklesbay spoke on Collins’ behalf at the hearing last May in support of Collins’ release.

The BOEC hearing room had standing room only as it was packed with dozens of Collins’ supportive family members, longtime friends, and Arizona Justice Project attorneys and interns. By phone, Collins’ supporters included the surviving victim, Collins’ pastor and mentor, and out-of-state family members. Notably, Eddie’s sister made a powerful presentation about her unwavering support for Eddie and the power of forgiveness.

Arizona Justice Project attorneys Katie Puzauskas and Kindra Helferich and University of Arizona law professor Andy Silverman represented Collins at the hearing. Additionally, Arizona Justice Project Re-Entry Team from the ASU School of Social Work – Graham Reilly, Husein Lateef, Shira Zias, and Rachel Williams – have set up a re-entry plan for Collins which was presented to the Board.

Since 1998, The Arizona Justice Project has been working to prevent and overturn wrongful convictions in the State of Arizona. The Arizona Justice Project, housed at the Beus Center for Law & Society, has helped launch legal clinics at the ASU and UofA law schools where law students review and investigate claims of wrongful conviction. The Arizona Justice Project receives approximately 350 new requests for help each year from Arizona inmates. The small staff and dedicated volunteers provide the last resource for many people seeking relief from a wrongful conviction or a manifest injustice.

Watch the news stories here:
After 43 years in prison, Tucson man about to be released

Lab director’s criminal record uncovered; what does it mean?

The Perspective of an Intern at Arizona Justice Project

intern_ajpArizona Justice Project’s team is comprised of interns, externs, volunteers, staff attorneys, and business staff. Although there are many different roles and people who fill those roles, each member of the team has key characteristics in common. We are all outspoken advocates of justice and have an undying urge to help others, especially those who cannot help themselves. This mass congregation of different people with these specific attributes is no accident. When looking at Arizona Justice Project’s mission, “To seek justice for the innocent and wrongfully imprisoned—the marginalized and forgotten of Arizona’s criminal justice system,” you can begin to understand why people with these attributes would gravitate toward Arizona Justice Project. The team believes that everyone, no matter who they are, deserves the same treatment in life and in the criminal justice system. Many people speak about believing this way, but Arizona Justice Project team lives this motto every day. For us, this means fighting for people who are accused of committing heinous crimes, such as: murder, kidnapping, burglary, molestation, etc.

Working at Arizona justice Project this summer has been one of the first times in my life that I have truly seen every person treated equally, no matter what they have been accused of or who they are, and it has been eye-opening not to mention given me new perspective and insight.

Arizona Justice Project helps inmates when their right to have appointed legal representation is exhausted and they have very few legal options left. Arizona Justice Project goes above and beyond to take cases of factual innocence as well as cases where a manifest injustice has occurred. Arizona Justice Project is a beacon of hope not only for prisoners with little to no options left but also for the public to assure that corruption is not occurring within our criminal justice system.

Arizona Justice Project receives many applicants each month; therefore, there is an extensive review system to ensure that we are taking the most cases with merit as possible and I was a part of this system. My job within Arizona Justice Project was social media and level one intake review. I posted updates daily on Facebook and Twitter, and helped created and implement the first phase of a social media marketing campaign. In my role in level one intake review, I was involved in summarizing the documents that were sent to us by inmates, and going to the Clerk of the Court to review the case on our own without the bias of the applicant. Once all procedural history and documents were summarized, I drafted a memo to present at case rounds, where all team members are brought up to date on what is going on in each case. In addition, we received advice, guidance, and direction from the staff attorneys and business staff.

The remarkable thing about Arizona Justice Project is that even though each person is overloaded with work, and there are multiple cases being worked on at once, each staff member is able to work one on one with the volunteers, interns, and externs. This collaborative approach that the project takes enables us to take more cases, be successful in more cases, and give each case the attention it needs.

Working or volunteering at Arizona Justice Project is hard work that involves quite a bit of reading, writing, and analysis. Regardless of how demanding the work is, the benefits from working at the project are unbeatable. For many of the applicants, we are their last hope. We can impact their destiny in such an immense way that their fate can change from spending the rest of their natural lives in prison to being released and reunited with their loved ones.

The sense of fulfillment I have experienced from working at Arizona Justice Project is unparalleled. I was able to spend my summer days helping those who could not help themselves, and I could not be more proud and thankful to have been a part of such an incredible organization.