Barry Scheck, the attorney and DNA expert whose mix of lawyering and lab work has helped free some 162 wrongly convicted prisoners across the country, is coming to Morgantown next week to officially inaugurate the Innocence Project at West Virginia University.
Scheck, who was a member of the O.J. Simpson defense team and represented British au pair Louise Woodward in a highly publicized 1997 murder trial, will launch the project here with a lecture at 4 p.m. Monday, Sept. 26, in the Lugar Courtroom of the WVU College of Law.
WVU s project is an offshoot of the nonprofit, New York-based Innocence Project co-founded by Scheck in 1992 at Yeshiva Universitys Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law.
The project uses DNA analysis and other forensic methods to offer high-tech takes on cases previously considered open-and-shut by the juries that delivered verdicts of guilty.
A now ex-convict who served 24 years in the Louisiana State Prison at Angola for a rape he didnt commit is among the New York projects success stories. Of the 28 projects currently doing work across the country, 19 of them, including WVU , are housed in colleges and universities.
The WVU project is the first such effort for West Virginia prisoners and their families, and the first in the country, its organizers say, to combine a universitys law school and forensic program.
Thats what makes this one especially exciting,said Valorie Vojdik, a College of Law associate professor and deputy director of the colleges law clinic who will help oversee the project here.
As far as I know, were the only Innocence Project in the world that combines its own law school and forensic research program,Vojdik said.Weve got renowned facilities and faculty who are internationally recognized in their fields. And our students are caring and committed to the project.
That commitment must carry over to the inmates petitioning the project to reopen their cases, said Vojdiks project colleague Max Houck, a former FBI investigator internationally known in law enforcement as the director of WVU s Forensic Science Initiative.
We arent doing this to help guilty people get out of prison a technicality,said Houck, who will work with the WVU project.Thats important for our potential clients and their families to know. If you think youre 100 percent innocent of the crime thats put you in jail, we want to hear from you.
To date, more than 100 inmates across West Virginia have done that, Vojdik said. Faculty organizers and students are still reviewing the inmate applications, she said.
All work will be done free of charge, she said. Clinical law students will collaborate with their counterparts in the forensic and investigative science to reopen the cases.
That could mean a wrongly convicted person could regain his freedom, Houck said. Justice could also ultimately be served, he said.
These projects are beneficial,he said,because they can help pinpoint the real perpetrator of the crime for which someone is wrongly convicted.
For more information and an application, visithttp://www.wvu.edu/~law/clinic/Innocence%20Project/Innocence%20Introduction.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 Barry Scheck and the national Innocence network athttp://www.innocenceproject.org/.