UW School of Law > News > Multimedia Gallery > IPNW 15th Anniversary Celebration

IPNW 15th Annual Awards Dinner

April 4, 2013

Kellye Testy

Well good evening everyone we are going to start our program tonight. I want to welcome you to this fabulous celebration if I could get your attention please.
I didn't really expect that a room like this would quiet down quite that fast because you are by nature an unruly group because you care so much about justice. So let's hear it for the Innocence Project Northwest, first of all.
It is wonderful to see you all here tonight. I am Kellye Testy the Dean of University of Washington school of law and I should say that I am the very proud Dean of Jackie McMurtrie and her crew and the Innocence Project Northwest. I want to take just a moment to say that we are just so pleased that you can join us here tonight. It is been wonderful to be here among you and to see so many former students, so many students who were able to work with Jackie and others in the clinic. It has been wonderful to see so many of our supporters here tonight, so many lawyers and judges and others that have meant so much to us as we have build this program over the years. And so I want to welcome each and every one of you and let you know that we are just so pleased that you are able to be here for this important celebration. It is fitting and right that we take a minute to pause and just recognize that it has been 15 years of seeking justice that this clinic and this project has accomplished. And I really appreciate you being part of that because as you all know this is a project that couldn't mean more in the real world as we sometimes say in the Academy. I want to take just a minute to let you know that as our mission at the University of Washington has continued to evolve as being focused on being educating leaders for the global common good our clinics in this one I think is a perfect example are really important examples of how we make that mission come to life. And you know as I have talked to so many of the people who have been touched directly by the work this clinic has done tonight including Mr. Banks who you will hear from shortly I realized that it just serves so many functions in our society. I mean first and foremost any system, any system is going to make mistakes. And it is critical for its integrity that there be a safety valve. And so projects like this that provide that safety valve for our justice system are just incredibly important for the integrity, the functioning, the respect of our system of justice as a whole.
But going beyond that one of the things that I ask our students to do as leaders for the global common good is to also think structurally, to understand that sometimes things aren't just random mistakes. That there are structural and systemic injustices in our society. And the area of race and criminal justice is an intersection that unfortunately is a too perfect example of structural inequity that plagues our society. And so that the Innocence Project can make some difference in righting the wrongs that have occurred because of that structural injustice makes this project one that we are just so deeply proud of and know that we still all have a long way to go together but we are so pleased that every day this project is making progress on those issues.
I want to take just another brief minute with you tonight to say very deep and personal thank you to Prof. McMurtrie as I introduce her. Let's hear it for her really, absolutely, absolutely. You know I have worked in Seattle longer than I have been the Dean of this law school and I have known her for and respected her so much for so many years. Most of you here know her as the leader of the Innocence Project Northwest and you know if her fierce dedication to this cause. She might seem like a pretty nice person until there is a wrong to be righted. But one of the things that I also want to explain to you this evening in honoring her and thanking her for that her leadership is that at the law school she is truly one of our leaders in every sense of the word. Not only is she active in this project actually helping your students learn skills, making a difference for the exonorees that the Innocence Project works with but she is an outstanding teacher in every respect. Our students just cannot get enough of her. They want her to teach every course. Jackie and I have decided that just is not possible but in the classroom and in the clinic she is a dedicated and incredibly effective teacher.
She is also incredibly effective in terms of her scholarship. She has I think had such an impact in taking what she has learned in this clinic and also writing about it. And what scholarship does is it spreads the learning from individual cases out around the world and so it has such a bigger impact when you get that worked out and I think she's been a splendid example of how we can integrate our teaching and our scholarship.
But the third thing that I want to share with you is that we also hope that our faculty members in addition to being great teachers and great scholars are also just deeply dedicated to the values that are law school holds dear of public service. And so what better, more perfect example that Jackie McMurtrie. Every day she makes a difference for so many individuals and for our system of justice as a whole and all the while she does all those things in her teaching, and her research and in her service. She is also I think one of the most terrific, one of the very finest colleagues I have ever worked with. She makes every aspect of our law school better by being a part of it. Jackie it is a great pleasure for me to welcome you to the podium to congratulate you on the success. Let's hear it for Jackie McMurtrie.

Jacqueline McMurtrie:

Thank you and it is always such... I don't know that it's a good thing to make the speaker cry before she comes up to talk but I just want to thank you all so much for being here and for all of your amazing support throughout the years of the work that is really a collective effort in the Innocence Project Northwest. It is so special to be sharing this evening with so many of you and I really want to especially single out Hana Hughson for her amazing work in putting this together and her team for helping to make this a wonderful evening.
So in 1997 the Innocence Project was formed. And it was formed without any kind of strategic mission, without any kind of budget, just with the notion that when there were these horrible injustices, when people were sitting in prison for crimes they did not commit that something and someone should do anything that they could in order to correct that error. So 15 years ago there were 43 DNA exonerations when we started this project it was the third project in the country, the third innocence organization to formally organize. Now there are 305 DNA exonerations. 15 years ago Larry Davidson, Alan Northrop were four years into their wrongful conviction they had just served four years out of their 17 year sentence. Ted Bradford 15 years ago had served one year of his sentence. 15 years ago Paul Statler was 12 years old, Tyler Gassman 11 and Rob Larsen was 17 years old. Jason Puracal was 20 years old. They had no idea what their future was going to hold and what they were going to be dealt in terms of wrongful conviction and incarceration. 14 years ago a group of attorneys got together and decided to do something about the cases in Eastern Washington which were known as the Wenatchee sex ring investigation cases. And that is where the heart of the Innocence Project Northwest really sprung from, was that volunteer effort of freeing people who had been convicted of dozens and countless counts of child sex abuse and it is great to see some of those folks in the audience: David Allen, and Anna Tolin who were part of that initial effort. 11 years ago we formed into a clinic at the University of Washington school of law and if you had a chance to see all of the photos of the over 120 students who have gone to the Innocence Project Northwest. Many of you are here tonight and you have been the backbone, the very foundation, the infrastructure of this effort and I cannot thank you enough for the dedication that you showed as students to our clients. And I would like those of you that are present in the audience and I know who you are to stand up and be recognized.
10:23 Two years ago and I hope these folks stood up as well the legislative advocacy clinic was formed because we recognized that it wasn't only needed to represent the people who were behind bars serving time for crimes that they didn't commit but we also needed to try and implement reforms to try and stop those people from getting there in the first place. And that clinic has been under the leadership of our policy director Lara Zarowsky and they have been working very hard to try and get wrongful conviction compensation passed this year. It has gone further this year than ever but we don't want it to just get further but we want it, I can speak about lobbying here can't I? It's not work. I'm not working. I'm not getting paid for this. We want that statute passed. We want to pass this year.
Five years ago something that made me very happy, we got a substantial gift and were able to hire our first staff attorney, Kelly Canary, who we cherished for three years until she left to join the Snohomish County Public Defenders where she is now preventing wrongful convictions at the onset. And we appreciate that. And we now have this amazing and dedicated team of people that I would like also to introduce to you tonight because it is a collective effort. It does take a village to exonerate a person who has been wrongfully convicted. So our Deputy Director Anna Tolin, no you need to stand up, our staff attorney Fernanda Torres, our policy director Lara Zarowsky, folks that aren't here tonight our paralegal Laura Fox and my amazing secretary Cynthia Fester who has contributed so much over the years to this effort.
We have also got a lot of great volunteers in the audience tonight. You'll hear about one of them later tonight but I wanted to give a shout out early to Joe Pierce and also to Tori Reagan who have been dedicating a lot of time and effort.
There is still work to be done in Washington State not to the surprise of this audience. We do have a post-conviction DNA testing and we were one of the first, we were early on providing that post-conviction DNA testing to individuals. We have a working relationship with the Washington state patrol crime lab that is the envy of other states. They cannot believe that our crime lab actually cooperates with us which is fabulous. We also have had success in getting prosecutors to agree to post-conviction DNA testing much to the surprise of people in other states. Washington was the first to implement a court rule that has put limits on public defender caseloads and so that is going to go a long way in terms of the quality of representation because you can't adequately represent somebody when you have 1200, 1800 misdemeanor cases. We were one of the first states to implement a rule that requires prosecutors to provide exculpatory evidence after conviction and not just before trial. But as Lara will tell you there is work to be done. We still need to make reforms in eyewitness misidentification procedures, in recording interrogations and doing something about jailhouse informants and ensuring that they don't lead to wrongful convictions. So I think we might be around for another 15 years, maybe not me personally, but the project.
But I would like to say 15 years ago my children were six years old and three years old and I had the opportunity to be with my kids as they grew up which is not true of some of the people I am now going to introduce you to. But I would like to thank my son Henry and my husband Bill who provided a lot of support to me personally over these past years and who are here tonight.
But now the remarkable people who are present tonight, the people for whom we do this work. I want to do little bit about them. James Anderson, I won't make you talk but you have to stand up. James. And you have to stay standing. It is so nice when people actually listen to me. James served four years out of a 17 year sentence for a crime in Tacoma that occurred while he was in Los Angeles. Ted Bradford. Ted Bradford served 10 years for a crime that he didn't commit before he was exonerated in 2010 by post-conviction DNA testing. Alan Northrop and Larry Davis. Who served 17 years for crimes that they did not commit before being exonerated through post-conviction DNA testing. Someone that we have adopted even though we did not exonerate him and you will hear a little bit more about him tonight. Jason Puracal who served 22 months in the Modelo prison in Nicaragua literally fighting for his life before he was released in September of last year. And then we are still working on these guys, not working on them but working for them. I do want to recognize our client Paul Statler, you have to stand up. The people that he was charged with Tyler Gassman, Rob Larsen who served four years out of a 41, 20 and 21 year sentence and we are still working on their cases but we will get there. We like where they are now. Before you sit down I also want to say that a wrongful conviction doesn't just impact the person who is behind bars serving time. It has a tremendous and tragic impact on the people who are left behind, the family and friends who also suffer when the person is wrongfully incarcerated. And we are very fortunate to have some people in the audience who stood by these folks for all of that time. So Hasani Anderson James's wife. No you have to stay standing, sorry. Hasani was actually with James in Los Angeles when he was accused of committing a robbery in Tacoma. Brian Bradford is one of Ted's many siblings who stood by him before and after this event. If some of you have seen the movie Conviction you know that a sister is a powerful thing and Sharon Davis who fought for Larry every day, every year of his wrongful conviction. And Shona Smith, you have stood by Alan. You need to stand up too because you are such an important part of his support. And Jason knows how powerful a sister can be because Janis Puracal who is an attorney fought in the courts, in the media, in the political realm in order to free Jason. And her mother Daisy Zachariah and sister Jamie Puracal were an important part of that as well. And finally, Janel Larsen who stood by her son Rob's side during this period of time. And last but not least self-described high school janitor Duane Statler who is a warrior for justice. So please join me in recognizing these remarkable people.
21:17 Thank you. When we decided to make this an awards dinner for the first time ever and we were thinking about who to give our innocence champion award to, the first one. It didn't take much time to settle upon Jack and Leslie Hamann. Cheers from the back already. For those of you who don't know Washington does have a long history of wrongful conviction but that would have never come to light without Jack and Leslie's dogged investigation into a case that occurred during World War II after an Italian prisoner of war was lynched at Fort Lawton which is in Discovery Park. So I believe they were both wandering around Discovery Park and saw the grave with an Italian name, wondered what it was about and using their skills honed during their many years of investigative journalism started digging into the case and what they found was remarkable. They found that 42 African-American soldiers had been court-martialed and ultimately 28 of those people suffered sanctions as a result of the court-martial for the lynching. And as they dug into the case they discovered the miscarriages of justice that had occurred when the lead prosecutor Leon Jaworski had withheld exculpatory evidence from the defense. The defense attorneys were two Washington state heroes,Judge Beeker who wasn't a judge yet but who served as the defense attorney and then Harold Lloyd who as a link to one of our speakers was actually a football star from the state of Iowa before he became a defense attorney. And these two men fought very hard, they fought very bravely but they weren't allowed to fight a fair fight. And so Jack and Leslie spent time digging into the national archives. They ultimately wrote a fascinating book called On American Soil which led to Congress taking action to reinvestigate the court-martials and to overturn the wrongful convictions and to order compensation for the remaining people who were surviving or their descendents. They had to take an additional step though to ensure that the compensation was meaningful because compensation that would have been provided in 1942 really was not worth having. And one of the most moving moments for me came when there was a ceremony at Fort Lawton where there were official apologies and Harold Lloyd was there along with many of the family members who got what was really important which is an apology from the government for this misconduct. And so Jack and Leslie Hamann have been true champions of justice, true champions of innocence and they continue to be advocates and voices for Reform and for justice in the state of Washington. And I am so pleased to honor them with the 2013, the first Innocence Champion Award.

Jack Hamann

Thank you Jackie. We would like to tell you that a very cold day in Milwaykee Wisconsin. There were three big stories on the front page that day. One was that even for Milwaukee was so cold that people were worried about going outside and we experienced that ourselves. We were worried about just going out for dinner was that cold. Another third of the paper was the fact that the beloved Packers are going to be playing a home playoff game against the hated Bears and people were still going to go out there. Brian Banks I hope the Atlanta Falcons don't have any December games planned for Green Bay. It was cold. But the third part of that front page was his extraordinary gathering of hundreds of Milwaukee citizens who were thrilled to have learned that one of the men who had been wrongly convicted here in Seattle all the way across the country Booker Town was finally all of these years later given his due. And we have to tell you we didn't write the book because we thought we wanted to see and experience moments like this, they sort of rather surprised us. But we are here to tell you that it doesn't matter whether it was a few days ago, a few years ago or in this case 60 years before an injustice is an injustice. I often think if my own grandfather I found out all these years later had been convicted of something that he didn't do I would still today want that justice. And so these cases that the Innocence Project takes on they have meaning now. They have meaning in the future. We learned very much that if something does not appear to be right from the past there is a good chance that it is in. And so if you have heard stories about things from long ago it is very possible that in fact an injustice was committed and maybe it's even today worth investigating. I would like to mention that here in this room are three people who have really been tremendous supporters for us. Nicole Brodeur of the Seattle Times has really doggedly followed this case and covered the humans that have been involved in this including Congressman John Lewis who flew out on his own without staff just to see Fort Lawton one day and the quote was there. Dean Testy both that you during and prior to Seattle you she was a big host of the remembrance that was done here in Seattle and of course Jackie McMurtrie and the whole Innocence Project itself has been such an important affirmation to what we were hoping to be able to do, to see that it wasn't just some past history but continues on. So let me finish with one last thought. It was a very shocking and yet gratifying thing to us that the United States Army and Congress didn't just overturn these convictions, they went ahead and said you deserve compensation. And when the compensation wasn't enough they went back and a fourth person who is not here Congressman Jim McDermott even though none of these men were still living in Seattle he fought for that compensation with Tara Beach his staff member and they got it. That bill that is before the legislature right now it's a no-brainer if our elected officials, if they can't have the integrity that we invest in them to realize how basic and how simple human decency it is to compensate folks that we have wrongly put away then they don't belong in office. And those more importantly who believe in this need to stand up and grab the bully pulpit until all of us again and again and again require the right thing to do. Lara, Jackie you're going to succeed in this. I hope it's this year and not in the future. Thank you all very much for this. Thank you.

Jacqueline McMurtrie

And now I would like to introduce Anna Tolin who will introduce our next segment.

Anna Tolin

Thank you thank you all for being here. I am so honored to be part of the Innocence Project Northwest and I am so thrilled to be able to introduce this next award which we are going to see presented unfortunately not live but via video and its meaning is no less important. I had the pleasure of meeting a young woman named Janis Puracal a couple of years ago whose brother was in prison in Nicaragua. And if I don't know what courage and tenacity means after meeting Janis Puracal there is something wrong with me because this is a woman who represented a family of strength and courage and love and created a team of amazing people all over the country, all of the world who came together to help free Jason Puracal including Prof. Justin Brooks from the California Innocence Project and we are so honored to have Jason as one of our adopted exonerees. I had the opportunity to work on his case as a volunteer before I joined the project and this is truly an amazing thing to see him sitting here with his family enjoying this lovely meal. The best voicemail I've ever gotten is actually still saved on my phone, "hi Anna, it's Jason. I'm home" so without further ado we are going to watch Jasons previous presentation to Congressman Adam Smith who was also so courageous and stepping forward to support the fight for Jason's freedom.

Jason Puracal

My name is Jason Puracal. I spent the last 22 months being slowly starved to death in a Nicaraguan prison before I was finally released and sent home to the US in September of 2012. I have been wrongfully convicted of crimes they did not commit. And sentenced to 22 years in law Modelo the maximum-security prison in Nicaragua infamous for ramp it human rights violations in addition to murder, rape and assault of its prisoners. My family launched an international campaign to save my life and ultimately succeeded with the support of thousands of people from around the world. Key to my release was Congressman Adam Smith from my home state in Washington. My mother and sister Janis who was also my attorney met with Adam Smith very soon after my initial wrongful arrest. Janis is sorry she could not be here today to present this award to Congressman Smith that she is in a trial in another case. Janis told me that she remembers that first meeting with Congressman Smith sitting across from him at a conference table in his Tacoma office and telling him that she was desperate to get me out of that hellhole and bring me home. Janis said Congressman Smith nodded silently and let her go on for what seemed like forever and then he said, "tell me how I can help." After having doors slammed in her face everywhere else she turned at that point early in the case Congressman Smith's response was so unusual and encouraging Janis said she nearly broke down in tears right there in the congressman's office. While that meeting was happening in Washington state I was 4000 miles away sharing a cell with 12 other men fighting for scraps of food and sleeping on a concrete floor. I was denied food, water and medical care. I was threatened and assaulted by other inmates as well as prison guards. I had to fight for my life each and every day I spent in that wasteland and I was exhausted. Congressman you will never know how much your support means to a guy being sentenced to 22 years and how. And there many more like me. Tonight we celebrate the 15th anniversary of the Innocence Project Northwest. That is 15 years of fighting for clients like me. I am inspired by the work of the motivated people that make up this organization especially Anna Tolin who took on my case pro bono and Jackie McMurtrie who has welcomed me into the project with open arms. Through all of the ups and downs of my case over the two years Congressman Smith stuck by us and never once forgot his role as a leader and advocate. On behalf of the entire Puracal family thank you for saving my life. Many people do not know that Congressman Smith's office actually tracked my release hour by hour as it was happening just waiting to step in when we needed them to finally get me out of the country is a Nicaraguan authorities were threatening to keep me there. We would like to specifically thank Congressman Smith's senior policy advisor Katie Quinn. Katie worked tirelessly on my case and even worked hand-in-hand with Janis on a marathon campaign on Capitol Hill that resulted in the support of 43 congressional offices on a letter to Nicaraguan Pres. Daniel Ortega urging his review of my case. I returned home just seven months ago in September of 2012. I have spent the last seven months rebuilding my life and now it is my turn to give back to all of those they gave to me and my family. There is much work to be done. From the thousands who still sit wrongfully convicted in prisons around the world to the legislation to help exonerate you say rebuild their lives, there is much much work to be done. My sister Janis and I are partnering with the Innocence Project to join the fight for many many others who we have met over the last two years who we will never forget and who we will never stop working for. As a father himself I think Congressman Smith can understand when I say that as a father it is indescribable to watch the pain that a wrongful conviction can inflict on your child. I am still working every day to rebuild my relationship with my son. He is the reason why I continue to support the Innocence Project and all of the mothers and fathers were separated from their children. I look forward to many opportunities to work with Congressman Smith and his office's partners in the innocence work. Congressman on behalf of the Innocence Project Northwest I am honored to present you with the Innocence Advocate award. Thank you for your support, your guidance and your leadership.

Congressman Adam Smith

Thank you thank you very much it's a great honor. Thank you, this is a tremendous honor and mostly I want to thank the Innocence Project. It is really hard to put into words the number of lives that they save in touch through their tireless work to protect the innocent. They have had a huge, huge impact and continue to do so. So I think all of the people who work with the Innocence Project. You are truly making a difference in the lives of countless people. And I also really want to thank Jason's family and Jason's sister in particular. Jason could not have had a better advocate fighting for him while he was down in Nicaragua wondering if you would ever see his family again. His sister was tireless and tremendous advocate it was great working with her. And I also really want to thank my staff as so often happens in the congressman's office it is the staff that is the overwhelming amount of work and certainly Katie Quinn and many others in my office worked very very hard on Jason's case. And we are just really happy to have you home. I am sorry that you went through what you went through. I'm only too happy to help in any way that I can help the Innocence Project going forward. I have seen firsthand in the person of Jason the difference you make in the lives of so many people. So thank you for this and I am just happy to have had the opportunity to in some small way help justice in this case helped Jason get home to his family and now a proud resident of the ninth District as I understand it. So I'm happy to have you back home. It was great working with your family. And thanks to the Innocence Project for this award but far, far more thank you for what you do for people every single day. Thanks for the chance to be here tonight and again it's great to have Jason home. Thank you.

Jason Puracal

So again my name is Jason Puracal and I was wrongfully convicted in Nicaragua for crimes they did not commit. I spent 22 months in law Modelo prison which is the Nicaraguan maximum-security prison there. It is infamous for rampant human rights violations: abuse, rape, murder of its prisoners by other inmates as well as prison guards. And I was released thanks to really a global effort in September of 2012. And so key to that release effort was Congressman Adam Smith and Janis told me a story when she first walked into the congressman's office at the very beginning of the case and sat down and started telling him about the story and he just sat there quietly and listened and after she was finished he said, "tell me how I can help." And so after having doors slammed in her face so many times at the beginning of that case it was just a huge relief to hear that from him. She almost broke down crying right there. So Congressman Smith continued to support us throughout the entire case. Many people don't know that when I was released from prison Congressman Smith in his office were on standby tracking the case hour by hour as the Nicaraguan authorities were threatening to keep me in the country and they were ready to step in to get the State Department to move to secure my release from the country. I just want to say a huge thank you to not only Congressman Adam Smith but also his staff and particularly Katie Quinn who is chief policy advisor aid. She in fact was Janis went around on Capitol Hill, door-to-door trying to get support for my case that ended up with 43 congressional offices signing a letter to Pres. Daniel Ortega urging his review of my case. So two Congressman Adam Smith and all of his staff I look forward to continue working with them on Innocence Projects in the future. Janis and I have partnered with the Innocence Project Northwest to see how we can continue to give back to the people that we have met over the two years of this case that we will never forget and will continue to fight for. And so thank you to Jackie and particularly Anna who worked pro bono on my case and without you guys I wouldn't be here so Congressman Adam Smith unfortunately couldn't be here today but he deserves a round of applause and that's why he's getting this award so thank you.

Anna Tolin

How is that for an impromptu speech when you didn't have to speak at an event? Thank you so much. I will say that you can go on YouTube and see the wonderful video that was shot and Congressman Smith was so appreciative of this award and so supportive of the work that our project and other projects across the country are doing so thank you.
At this point I would like to introduce my wonderful colleague Fernanda Torres who is a staff attorney with us and has worked on some amazing cases including Paul Statler's case and she is here to introduce our next wonderful award recipient. Thank you

Fernanda Torres

43:08 Hello it is an honor for me to introduce Joe Pierce the recipient of the pro bono award. Joe is an attorney with more than 35 years' experience in criminal defense and human rights. He moved to Seattle last year when his partner Nicole got a job at the University of Washington press and he moved here from Tuscaloosa Alabama. Tuscaloosa's loss was absolutely our gain. And we have been the lucky beneficiaries of Joe's volunteer work at IPNW since last summer. It is fair to say that a little less than a year later Joe is an integral part of our team. It is hard for me personally to imagine doing half of the work that I do without Joe's help and contribution. He comes to our weekly staff meetings where he brings his expertise, compassion and healthy dose of outrage to our internal meetings. He contributes a lot to our backlog of cases. We have a big backlog of cases, cases that are waiting. And one of my goals and responsibilities has been to tackle the backlog. And Joe has literally spent hundreds of hours reviewing cases, reading transcripts, reviewing police reports, meeting with me and helping me to decide what do we do. His contribution in this area has been a huge, huge help to our project. Really, we hit the jackpot when Joe offered to volunteer with us. If his willingness and expertise wasn't enough it turns out he is really a pleasure to work with. He is easy-going. He is funny. He brings much needed gender diversity as you have seen. He brings treats to a lot of our meetings, mostly doughnuts. And he speaks with a southern accent y'all. He is the total volunteer package and not available for volunteering anywhere else if you're wondering about that. Joe your contribution to our cases, our clients, our future clients and our mission is overwhelming. Thank you, thank you, thank you from all of us at IPNW and congratulations.

Joe Pierce

Thank you Fernanda. When I contacted Jackie about becoming a member of the Northwest Innocence Project she said well let's meet. I was hoping she had a vision of to kill a Mockingbird when I was talking to her. So I met with her and Fernanda and we talked for a while and Jackie said well were not sure about the accent but we would like for you to join us and that was the best thing that has happened to me in a long time because actually I promise Jackie that I would not tear up if she didn't. My wife's nickname for me is CBP--Crybaby Pierce. That came about when I tried to read the book Seabiscuit and couldn't get past the first three pages. She pointed out to me that it was only a dead horse after all. But really this is an honor for me but the real honor is working with Fernanda and all of these incredible people because you cannot imagine how hard they work not every day but all the time. I have never seen people like these dedicated, totally dedicated. I have practiced law for 35 years with some damn good lawyers and these are the best that I have ever been with and that's the truth.
I don't know if you know much about post-conviction work but it is the heavy lifting criminal law. I have done a lot of appellate work, not much of this but I have learned a lot about it. It is heavy lifting. Because what you are really faced with is a big wall and people say you are never going to get through that wall. You're not going to do it. There's no way you're going to make it. And what a good lawyer does and what they do every day is keep looking at that wall until they find a crack in it then they pick up the facts, they pick up the law they make a hole in it that somebody to walk through. That's what they do. And I am proud to be a part of doing that with them so thank you so much for letting me be a part Jackie and Fernanda.

Jacqueline McMurtrie

Thank you Joe and it really is just such a pleasure to have you for all of the reasons Fernandez said and more so it's our privilege to have you as our amazing volunteer in volunteer of the year.
We are experiencing technical difficulties so rather than showing you the video that we had planned to introduce our next amazing speaker with Brian Banks I have brought up a live person who is one of my very favorite people. I don't even have to qualify I was going to say in the Innocence Project world but he is one of my very very favorite persons this is Justin Brooks from the California Innocence Project who directs the California Innocence Project. He has his hand in many projects in South America, has his hand in freeing Jason Puracal and was right there when Brian Banks needed him in overturning his conviction and leading to his freedom last year so I'm going to let Justin tell you a little bit about Brian Banks's case which is such a remarkable story and we are so honored to have you with us tonight Brian and we are so especially honored because I know that it is been an incredibly busy time for you having just signed with the Atlanta Falcons and that nonetheless you honored your commitment to us and we so appreciate you being here and everything that you represent and thank you so much for spending this evening

Justin Brooks

Thank you so much and I love this woman here. I have had the pleasure of serving with her on our national board where we oversee 62 Innocence Projects in the United States and around the world. And she is a quiet storm as we all know.
Let me tell you a little bit about my friend and client Brian Banks. Brian was a super star high school athlete. He is that kid that some of us envied in high school and we all hear about and he was a star. And part of that was his undoing. I have never seen anyone in my life was gone in a roller coaster like Brian Banks has.
On the day of the alleged incident that landed him in prison he was heading to the office at his high school and he had a meeting set up with the reporter because they were following his recruitment. He was one of the best football players in the United States. Every school in the country wanted him to come play football for them. Brian showed me once he had a whole envelope full of letters from literally every Division I school that wanted him to come play. So this kid was not someone with just potential who might have had a good life. This was a kid at the absolute top of his life. And he runs into this girl who he knows in his high school while he is walking to the office and they decide to go the stairwell and they make out in that stairwell. And it's you know kids’ stuff. I've got two boys of my own. That's exactly the kind of story that I would imagine them getting involved in high school, some kind of harmless kid stuff. And Brian goes on with his day. She goes back to class. He goes back to class. He goes to football practice and the next thing you know he is being arrested and he's being charged with rape and kidnapping. And he has no idea what happened.
Brian sat in a juvenile detention facility for several months. He was offered multiple deals to make this case go away before anyone really looked into this case. His mother sold her house, sold her car to hire a private attorney to represent him. And he just sat there not knowing what was going on just thinking this is all going to go away. And I know you guys sitting here tonight had that same thought in your head like this is all going to go away. And then you wondered who's going to pay your rent next month? And who can make your car payments? And what is going on with your life outside as it slowly starts to dissipate. And for Brian it was getting back on the football field. He was a junior in high school and he had his senior year coming up. And even as a junior in high school every college wanted him to come play. This was supposed to be his time as a star. And the next thing you know the next school year starting without him and the team has gone on without him.
And he finds himself in adult court and his lawyer comes into him while this case is kicking off and the jury is coming in and says, “I've got a great deal for you. You're not going to believe how great this deal is. You are facing 41 years in prison if we go into that courtroom and if you take this deal I might be able to get you probation.” And Brian is sitting there. He is a kid. He is a teenager. Those of us who have 17-year-olds or had 17-year-olds think about them in this situation and he was 16 when he was locked up and he turns 17 in the juvenile attention facility. And he is sitting there crying saying, “Why do I have to take this deal I didn't do this?” And she says, “If you don't take this deal, we go into that courtroom there is an all-white jury in there that is going to convict you. You are a big black kid it's going to be your word against hers. You are going to get convicted and you're looking at 41 years in prison. If you take this deal now I might be able to do you probation.” And he says, “Can I talk to my mom? Can I talk to my dad?” They are right outside. They're waiting for the trial to start. And she said, “No this is your decision. You got to make this decision right now.”
So just for a moment put yourself in that situation. Even as an adult put yourself in that situation where you're not a lawyer, you don't understand what's going on and this lawyer who you have paid is telling you this is the deal you have to take or your life is over. If you take this deal you might get back to playing football, you might get your life back. So he took the deal and he pled no contest. And he went in to be evaluated for probation. And during his evaluation the people who evaluated him actually thought he was innocent. They came back in and gave him a glowing report. And he's thinking I'm going home. But he wasn't. He got sentenced to the maximum sentence and he got six years in prison.
Now what Brian did with that time is a remarkable thing that I want him to talk about that tonight. And he wrote our project while he was imprisoned and we said, “What can we do in this case? There was no DNA evidence. There was no evidence except for what this woman said. And the important part is you pled. You pled.”
And that is what our system has become. Our system right now is 95 to 97% plea bargains. As Jackie said I do a lot of work in Latin America. I have started a project in Argentina and Chile and in Mexico. And they are shocked by what I tell them about plea bargains the United States. Even with all of the problems in the Mexican system they're saying, “What? You guys just plead out all your cases?” And the sentences have become so great in states like California and I don't know how bad it is here but in California the sentences are so great that you know you are rolling the dice in the criminal justice casino by going to trial and most people aren't willing to do it.
So Brian wrote to us and we really couldn't do anything with this case. And he got out and he tried to start getting his life back and he tried to start playing football again and what happened? His life was again on this roller coaster. It was going back up and things were looking good for him again and he is such a strong kid that he said, “I'm going to get back everything they took away from me” and California passed a new sex offender law and what it said was it took him downtown, they put them in a room of guys that were charged with sex offenses and they said, “You are going to wear this ankle monitor and you're going to be reporting in regularly and you're going to be on the list of sex offenders. You can’t live anywhere near a school and you cannot live anywhere near a park”.
And again they took his life away from him. He couldn't play football. He wasn't allowed to play football. He couldn't leave the city of LA. He couldn't get work. He had trouble getting a place to live. And he was just out there struggling. And one day he gets this crazy Facebook friend request. And it's from the woman who accused him of rape and kidnapping. And she said, “Can we let bygones be bygones? I want to be friends.” So Brian doesn't not know what to do with this information. He is scared. He is thinking, “Is she trying to set me up again? If I meet with her or even talk to her I'm in violation of my parole. I am going to go back to prison but I have got to clear my name.” And one of the saddest things any client has ever said to me is when Brian said to me, “It was worse being outside than being inside. Because in prison I was just another inmate in every inmate has got story but outside I was a pariah. I was a convicted sex offender. It was much worse.” And so he took that risk. And he went and he met with her. And he videotaped it. And what he got is remarkable: a woman literally not apologetic, just trying to get their friendship going again. And she admits on the video that there was no kidnapping. There was no rape. And unfortunately that was something that the defense attorney also would've known had she gone to the alleged crime scene because she claims that Brian dragged her through the school to the stairwell and when we went to the school and walked the halls she would've had to be dragged by classrooms were classrooms are going on and the doors are open and the whole story made no sense. She said that she and Brian had sex and there was no DNA evidence and there was a rape kit done that day. But none of that mattered because the case never went to trial and it was never tested. And when I got a chance to question this young woman within three or four questions everything she had to say had fallen apart.
But here is the problem: Brian comes down to meet me in San Diego and he has got this amazing video but those of us who practice habeas law and I'm sure it's going through people's heads right now what the hell do you do with that video? We have very strict rules in California about videotaping people secretly. Getting that admitted into court is a very difficult task. And we have a plea so you have to undo a plea as well. So I said Brian, “This is amazing stuff but I'm not sure we can do anything with it and on top of that we actually don't represent people who are out of prison.” So here is a great thing for him to hear. I write to you guys while I'm in prison and now I'm out now you can't represent me because I'm out of prison. And he said, “Look I am in prison the rest of my life as long as this charges hanging over my head. I will never have a life.” And so we took on his case.
And it was not an easy road because we knew that we had to get cooperation from the District Attorney's Office in order to win it. I was in the middle of another murder case, a horrible beheading case and I noticed that the head of the office was showing up in sitting in the back of the courtroom, the head of the writs and appeals division. So I called Brian up one day and I said, “Brian get dressed up and come down to court right now.” And during the lunch break I went up to the DA and I said, “I've got this other client called Brian Banks could you give him 15 min. of your time? I'm sure this kid is innocent.”
And Brian once again to get on himself to fight his case and he sat down he told the whole story to the Dist. Atty. Then by the end of it he said, “We’re going to join you investigating this case.” This kid is the most determined person I've ever seen. We fought the case. We got the DA to come into court and say, “We concede the petition.” Those are the magic words every habeas attorney dreams of hearing because they don't ever need to concede the petition. We have the burden of proof. They can sit there like a potted plant and they're probably going to win. And while the reality of it. Oh well, we know it. But fortunately they came in and said those words.
And in the videotape that hopefully you can go home and look at on the Internet or you may have seen on the news, Brian just drops his head onto the table and is sobbing thinking about the 10 years of his life that have gone by since he was a high school football star and thinking about how I am I getting that back? And you can see me saying, “Come on buddy let's go, let's go. The marshals are all looking at you. They're going to drag you out of here.”
And since that day a year ago he has done nothing but get that dream back. And it has been an unbelievable joy for me to watch. We do this work and it's hard and we lose and we don't get people out of prison who we believe are innocent and we got to tell them a lot of times about the disappointments and I know how Jackie feels to nice seeing all of you guys here. It's unbelievable because we see people getting their lives back but I've never in my career been able to see someone not just get his life back to get all his dreams back. Everything he thought about he was a kid, every dream he had and everything that he deserved and that all came true yesterday. So ladies and gentlemen the newest linebacker for the Atlanta Falcons Brian Banks.

Brian Banks

1:04:30 I really don't know what to say after that. Thank you for having me tonight. I really wanted to be here. Before I get into anything I just want to talk to all of the exonorees and the brothers and sisters that are waiting to be exonerated and are hoping to be exonerated. I know how it feels. I know that struggle. I know that fight. I know how it feels to lose everything for something you didn't do. And I know how it feels to sit and watch your life or watch life itself continue on as you sit and wait and wonder what's going to happen next. I was a 16-year-old boy taken away from my mom, my freedom, my football team, my family everything I knew to be true. And I was put behind bars in a new environment in a place that was foreign to me that I knew nothing about. I was placed with grown men.
If you think about your 18th birthday and what you did to celebrate your 18th birthday, the place he went to, the friends you hung out with. That feeling of being 18 and stepping into that first stage of adulthood, it was a magical day. My birthday is July 24. On July 25 was the first day that I stepped into Chino State prison. That is how I spent my 18th birthday. I didn't understand what was going on at that time. I didn't quite comprehend what I was being accused of and why things weren't being resolved and why no one would listen, why no one would take the time to step away from the characters that they play as an attorney or a judge or DA and just be a human being and see what was going on.
When I was sentenced to six years I didn't understand or know how I was going to get through that time. I didn't know where to begin. I was angry. I was frustrated. I wanted revenge. I wanted to rebel. I wanted to give up. And one day waking up in a cell I realized that these feelings that I had, that these negative emotions that I had, that this rage that I had inside of me, the people that I had it for, they didn't even know. They didn't even care. And so I realized that I was eating myself alive and no one knew but me. And no one could change that but me. So I made the decision that although I was wrongfully accused of a crime that I did not commit, although I was in a prison cell serving a sentence that I shouldn't serve and although I was away from my family and everything I knew to be true the one thing that I did have was a choice to better myself as a person, to better myself as a man, and to better myself as a human being. And so I spent the next five years and two months educating myself, studying sociology, psychology, Afrocentric studies, different religious texts, spirituality.
I wanted to understand me, my surroundings, the people that I was in prison with. I wanted to better myself as a person. I wanted to be better than the situation, better than the accusation, better than the label that was put against me. I wanted to be this in some kind of way whether I had to live with this for the rest of my life or not I wasn't going to let it find me. So years passed and I let the dream of football go because it was impossible for me to think about football while trying to exit prison mentally sane and physically healthy. So there were some things that I had to let go. I attempted to even file my own petition for an appeal not knowing how to, not having someone to help me through it. I did everything I could on my own to fight my own case and nothing worked. I watched my mom do everything she could in her will and nothing worked. So I decided to just better myself in the situation.
When I was released from prison I was 22 years old and I had been in since I was 16 and the world passed me by. I say it's like dying. That court date that you are sentenced was your funeral and your family is there to grieve for you and you passing. And you go to prison and you're basically buried. And your family grieves for you and your friends they grieve for you. They miss you but eventually they will learn to live without you. And the world passes you by. And when you come home everyone is happy to see you. Everyone is excited that you are home but now there is this disconnection between you and everything you once knew. People don't really understand you. You got this thing about you now. And you don't really understand your family because everybody's grown and everyone has different opinions and everyone has been raised differently. And so there's a disconnection and so you're dealing with that.
For me, I paroled. I was a convicted sex offender. It was impossible to find work. As Justin said I couldn't live within 2,000 feet of a school or park. I couldn't find work. No one wanted to hire me because I didn't have a college education, and while trying to find a job I was on parole. I had a GPS on my ankle and I had a parole officer who didn't want nothing but to see me go back to prison. So it was impossible for me to even live somewhat of a normal life. But everything that I studied, everything that I learned, I utilize that to stay strong. The support that I had I took that and use that as fuel to remain strong. And my faith in God kept me strong.
So for the next four years I lived a life that was really no life. I was a person that had no opportunity and then I received a Facebook friend request that at one point I didn't even know if I should respond to it. It was probably one of the scariest moments of my life, what do I do? I remember getting on my knees and praying to God and asking him that if this is really her and that there is really an opportunity for me to shed light on the truth but I'm asking you to help me play these cards right because this is my one and only opportunity I getting my freedom back. I risked it all. I risked going back to prison. I risked everything for this opportunity at getting the truth told and God blessed it. I thank God that she came forward. With that video, to the California Innocence Project and I just pled to them for help and they took on my case. And for the next year they fought my case and for the next year I was still a convicted sex offender living an inhumane life.
But I saw an opportunity have freedom and I took it and I went to the gym with the GPS on my ankle and I started training. I started working out. And I believe in the goals and the dreams that I once had and I put passion behind them and I wanted to again better myself as a person. And as the year past and I was exonerated on May 24, 2012. I vowed to myself that the first thing that I'm going to do is give back to the people who helped me get my life back. And so while fighting for my own dreams I began helping the California Innocence Project to give the dreams back to other wrongfully convicted men and women. It is so important what the Innocence Project is about, what it stands for, the foundation of it. It is so important the feeling of losing your freedom and your life for something you didn't do its indescribable.
We all can say here and try and explain to you how it feels. I don't think there's any words that could describe it. It is important that people know about the Innocence Project. It is important that people get involved with the Innocence Project. It is important that people donate to the Innocence Project so that we can get people home. There are people behind bars wrongfully convicted that have dreams and aspirations like I did that are being denied the opportunity. I got my freedom back. I pursued my dreams. I am an NFL athlete as of today. Thank you.
The reason that I say that is to say that there are other people who need their life back that have just as much aspiration and dreams as I do that need an opportunity to shine like I do, that need a chance to have a voice, an opinion, respect, dignity, a life like I do. And so I am asking every one of you today that is thinking about donating, being a part of this movement, that knows someone that should be a part of this movement, or should donate to do it. If there is anything that you can do to help someone this is the way. This is the way. So I just want to end by saying thank you. I want to end by telling all of you exonorees and future exonorees that I feel you. And I am here and that we are here that no matter what we are the survivors. There is something in us that other people don't have. There is a fight within us that is a special kind of fight and God wouldn't put us do nothing that we couldn't handle. So spread the word because it's a big movement taking place and anyway in every way that I can make noise about the Innocence Project via California, via Northwest, be it any Innocence Project I'm going to make noise and were going to bring people home. Thank you.

William Bailey

Brian, that is one of the most moving stories that I have ever heard. I feel myself changed for having heard you tonight. I will never forget this. And I am up here because I passionately believe in the work of the Innocence Project it brings me back to why I wanted to be a lawyer in the first place. And why I think back to the days when I was a public defender here and I see some of my friends and colleagues from those days and I felt the most alive and the most doing something that really and truly mattered. Jackie honored me by inviting me to tag along the meetings of the Innocence Project since I shifted up to the University of Washington as a professor from practice. And I echo what Joe Pierce said and more committed group of people does not exist. The passion that they bring for this work sustaining it day in and day out it's awe-inspiring. It really is. But at the same time folks I am up here tonight is the closer to ask all of you for money, which I hate to do but it's because what I believe in is so fragile. We are in the age of sequester. And this program folks Jackie is not going to tell you it but I have seen the worry on her face. She is going from grants to grant. It is interesting a couple of years ago there was a study on what kind of people give money. And I thought well it's all going to be liberal left-wing Democrats like me. Wrong. We think the government's going to take care of it. Some big angel donor for Microsoft is going to write a check. Wrong. It is the folks on the other side. The more conservative ones that are actually likely to get out their checkbook or their credit card and say you know that's not right. I'm going to do my fair share of pay. And the people on my side of the spectrum we think oh well somebody else is going to take care of that. And somebody else's not going to take care of it. There are no big angels out there that I know of I wish there were. It's us folks. We are going to keep this program alive. We are going to pay forward what Brian just told us. And for all of us, so many of us in this room became lawyers because we are passionate about the power of law to do something good. And Brian when you talked about people leaving their humanity behind, just doing a job. That happens way too much in the system. And it's programs like the Innocence Project that bring us to our humanity, that make us proud to be lawyers. So it would be nice to think well DNA is going to fix all of this. DNA does not fix witness misidentification. DNA does not fix government misconduct. And DNA does not fix ineffective lawyering. And I am so worried now the public defender system here that I have been so proud to have once been associated with, the government is talking about taking it over now and losing that edge so there are a lot of threats going on. One of the things that the Innocence Project does, the fact that it is out there keeps the system honest. And I had this interesting experience in the forensics class I teach at the UW. One of the scientists from the crime lab came and I was chatting with them afterwards and he said you know Bill I was at a conference not long ago when I told them I was working with the Innocence Project and they were all aghast what you're working with the Innocence Project? It's like they were traitors to the crime lab fraternity. What you're working with an organization that is trying to clear innocent people? That's what's going on folks. That's what's going down and Jackie and Lara and everybody in this small and mighty band is turning around. Lara Zarowsky is working with the Seattle Police Department that's been taking their lumps lately but there are some good folks there. And the detective she is working with is a senior detective on curing misidentification and this detective really wants to avoid suggestive IDs. He wants to change the way they present information to victims. So one of the things that is so inspiring about Innocence Projects Northwest and I know I need to be careful because it's a franchise name but Innocence Projects Northwest is not only reactive they all are proactive. They are trying to head off a wrongful conviction before it happens in the police station. And we are not getting a superwoman award tonight but I would give it to Lara because that's saying no person’s life or property is safe when the legislature is in session, she goes into the belly of the beast every day to fight for wrongful victim compensation so that we've got going on. So folks after what Brian has told us it's pretty easy. I'm old-fashioned I like to write a check but if your modern and you want plastic we take that too. We'll even take an IOU because we know everybody in this room is good for. But however you do it and to celebrate Brian signing we want to sweeten the deal. For any of you that give $1,000 or more you get a signing bonus of your picture with Brian Banks. And Brian I want my picture with you to remember this night because I am never going to forget what you said. So folks it's us. We are in this room because we care because we love this program. We believe in it and there is no government angel and Jackie is not going to tell you but in the time of sequester I have seen the clout of worry come over her face as she scans the grand horizon and its mother Hubbard city. You know there just isn't a lot there to feel good about so we have got to step up. We've got to pay it forward like Brian said. So however you like to pay we will take it all cash, check, money order, Western Union, I owe you, whatever it is and step it up. 1,000 or more but for those that do it at 1000 and that's going to include me you get your picture with a real hero. Thank you.

Lara Zarowsky

Good evening everyone I am Lara Zarowsky I would like all of the staff for the IPNW and all of the exonerated, honorary and otherwise, to please come up for just a moment. Okay there we are. We are here tonight celebrating really a remarkable organization. An organization that prompted me to go to law school in the first place and it is an honor to me to be a part of now. We are also here to honor our remarkable leader Jackie McMurtrie. Now many of you know Jackie. We all know Jackie in many different capacities. She is our teacher. She is our friend. She is our mentor. For some of us she is her attorney. For some of us she's our boss. And for every one of us no matter how we know Jackie she is inspired us in really many, many ways. She has inspired us to look at the same old problems that find a way to solve them in a new way. She has inspired us to hold on to the things that we know are right not let go of it. She has inspired us to hope and create hope for other people and most important issues taught us not to give up. And so tonight on behalf of all of us the staff in the center of the Innocence Project Northwest we want to say thank you for making this possible for all of us. And everyone else cried so I get to do it to. Thank you.

Jacqueline McMurtrie

Thank you everybody it's just... I am speechless at this moment. And just to have been standing in front of this podium to see all of these folks here who have meant so much to me and who are the reason why we do this work is an incredible, incredible feeling. Thank you to my amazing colleagues, to my wonderful William Bailey you should be up here too as one of us. Thank you to all of my friends who are here in support. Thank you to all of you who are going to allow us to continue to do this work because you supported as well and you've been a part of it and again it takes a village to exonerate one person. So I don't know what to say other than thank you, thank you, thank you over and over again this is really been amazing.

Last updated 6/26/2013