Has someone you know and love been unjustly jailed in West Virginia?
Then the Innocence Project at West Virginia University wants to hear from you.
WVU s version is a Mountain State offshoot of the national Innocence Project in New York City. Since its founding in 1992, the national project to date has helped exonerate 159 wrongly convicted prisoners across the country, including one man who served 24 years in the Louisiana State Prison at Angola for a rape he didnt commit.
The WVU project is the first such effort for West Virginia prisoners and their families, and will be the first in the country to combine a universitys law school and forensic science program, its organizers say.
There are currently 28 such projects doing work across the United States, and 19 of them are housed at colleges and universities, including WVU .
The project uses DNA analysis and other forensic methods to offer a high-tech take on cases previously thought to be open-and-shut by the juries that delivered the verdicts of guilty.
Potential clients in West Virginia will be asked explain in writing why they think the above sleuthing methods could show they didnt commit the crimes that put them behind bars.
Clients will also be asked for something else: an unwavering proclamation of innocence of the convicted crime.
And that, WVU s Max Houck says, is the most critical component of all.
Were not doing this to help guilty people get out of prison on a technicality,said Houck, a former FBI investigator who is internationally known in the law community as director of the WVU Forensic Science Initiative.
Under faculty supervision, WVU students in the clinical law program will link up with their counterparts in the forensic and investigative science program to reopen those cases, using a blend of book work and bench work.
WVU s Marjorie McDiarmid says that pairing is what makes the West Virginia project bold and exciting.
It makes for a dynamic initiative where students apply what they learn to real-world situations,said McDiarmid, who directs the College of Laws Clinical Law Program.At the same, people in desperate need of help may well get it.
Justice could also ultimately be served, Houck said.
These projects are beneficial,he said,because they can help pinpoint the real perpetrator of the crime for which someone is wrongly convicted.
Nathan Fetty, a third-year law student and one of the projects organizers, agreed.
Its a chance to help our fellow West Virginians,he said,and to our knowledge, ours is the only project to bring together a law school and forensic program.
The WVU project will do its work free of charge.
For an application, visithttp://www.wvu.edu/~law/clinic/clinic.htmor call (304) 293-7249.
Applications may also be mailed by writing: Innocence Project at West Virginia University, P.O. Box 6130, Morgantown, WV 26506 . No other materials are to be sent with the initial application.
Learn more about the national project athttp://www.innocenceproject.org/.