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OIP Celebrates the Launch of New OIP-u Program

The Ohio Innocence Project, borne out of the University of Cincinnati, and a branch of the national Innocence Project, launched a new organization on Oct. 2, called OIP-u. This program provides a way for undergraduate and graduate students to get more involved, and to come together to fight for freedom of wrongly incarcerated men and women in the state.

The launch coincided with the 2nd Annual International Wrongful Conviction Day, which is dedicated to recognizing those whose lives have been adversely impacted by wrongful conviction as well as educating the public on its causes, consequences, and complications.

Four Ohio universities have newly formed OIP-u chapters: John Carroll University, Ohio University, University of Dayton, and The Ohio State University, and each had events that featured OIP exonerees.

The University of Cincinnati College of Law has many upcoming events related to the OIP, such as the Oak Hills Girl Scout Troop earning their social justice badge by visiting the office to speak with attorneys on Oct. 19, and Jennifer Bergeron, an OIP attorney, giving her oral argument at the 6th District Court for OIP client Karl Willis on Oct. 21.

On Nov. 13, OIP will be honored by receiving the Outstanding Program or Organization Award by the Ohio Bar Association.

Throughout the state, OIP Attorney Donald Caster and exoneree Dean Gillispie will be speaking to Kent State Students on Nov. 12, and on Nov. 17 OIP Attorney Brian Howe will be presenting at a continuing legal education in Cleveland to discuss prisoner reintegration and post-release measures.

Wrapping up the calendar year will be the 21st Annual Rescuers of Humanity Awards Dinner, taking place on Dec. 1, sponsored by Project Love in Cleveland. 

Dynda Thomas '86 Quoted in New York Times

Dynda Thomas (’86), former Urban Morgan Institute fellow and expert on conflict minerals quoted in the New York Times article “Complex Law on Conflict Minerals". Thomas is a partner at Squire Patton Boggs and leads the firms conflict minerals practice group.  

Private Violence Emmy

Featuring Un Kyong Ho (Cincinnati Law - '10) (left)

And the Emmy goes to…

Private Violence, premiered last fall by the Center for Race, Gender, and Social Justice at the Underground Railroad Freedom Center, just received an Emmy nomination and is one step closer to another award.

And more local Center for Race, Gender, and Social Justice news:  Community groups, originally formed at the Center’s premier, are moving forward on specific action items to improve the lives of survivors of intimate partner abuse in Cincinnati. 

Changing the definition of abuse…

One action group is working to revise the definition of abuse under Ohio’s domestic violence statute to protect against more than physical abuse.  The group is in the initial stages of making video featuring women who have been denied a civil protection order for lack of physical abuse, but who were experiencing intimidation, isolation and “coercive control,” and then later were physically abused.  This happens all too often, and by broadening the language, the system will become much more proactively protective.  The video should serve as a powerful advocacy tool to help bring about this important and much needed change in Ohio law.

Judicial Training, Preschoolers and Curricular Offerings…

Another action group is working to expand training for judges and magistrates in Ohio on intimate partner abuse.  The group is researching training requirements in other states and exploring programming to address specific issues in Ohio courts that were identified at the Private Violence City Summit last October.  Two other groups, one working on the development of programming for preschoolers impacted by domestic violence and the other on social work curricular offerings, have been formed and will be meeting regularly this fall.

Want to get involved?  There is much important work to do!  Send an email to if you would like additional information about any of these working groups.

UC Law Hosts 50 Students for Law Leadership Program

Cincinnati Law hosts over fifty (50) high school students, ninth through twelfth grade, for the annual Law & Leadership Institute (LLI) summer session.  LLI is a state-wide initiative in collaboration with the legal community that inspires and prepares high school students, primarily from urban public school districts, for post-secondary and professional success through a comprehensive four-year academic program in law, leadership, analytical thinking, problem solving, writing skills and professionalism.  Students represent several area high schools - including Walnut Hills, Mason, Mother of Mercy, School for the Creative and Performing Arts, Western Hills, Dater, Cincinnati College Prep Academy, Withrow, Norwood, Clark Montessori, Winton Woods, and Princeton – and engage in a robust curriculum and ACT prep, and also participate in internships, mock trial and field trips for four to five weeks during the summer.

Caitlin Wells: My Experiences as an OIP Fellow

A few months ago, my Dad asked that I put together a few paragraphs about my experience as an Ohio Innocence Project for the Dayton Federal Bar Association’s newsletter. I didn’t want to. With work, school, and the hundred other things fighting for my attention, it felt like exactly the kind of task that I could let fall to the wayside.

After weeks of my dodging his requests, my Father called me up to check on the status of the article that I hadn’t started. “I’m busy,” I told him. “Make time,” he said. “You’re doing something exciting. Let other people be excited about it too.”

Not able to argue with the man who still pays a portion of my tuition, I sat down to throw together something about my first 9 to whenever the work got done legal job.

I thought about what I would put on a resume, but I couldn’t figure out how to reduce a whirlwind of a summer internship into a few bullet points.

Fellow with the Ohio Innocence Project: Responsibilities include: 

  • Tracking down witnesses to talk about cases they haven’t thought about since before I was old enough to drive. 
  • Begging underpaid public employees to “please just fish the dusty police reports from the bottom of unlabeled boxes and forward them to us.” 
  • Talking to an inmate’s crying mother. 
  • Talking to a crying inmate. 
  • Crying myself when I opened my first folder of crime scene photos 
  • Battling injustice.
  • Research.
  • More research. 
  • Washing office dishes. 
  • Brief writing.
  • Typo searching.
  • Forsaking my long running opposition to anything resembling my tenth grade biology class to learn EXACTLY how mitochondrial DNA could free an innocent person.

I used the control A function to delete my draft and started over, this time trying to think about what I would tell if I had to turn my experience into one of those thirty second networking elevator speeches. “My name is Catlin, and I...” I couldn’t finish that one either.

Last week, I watched Ricky Jackson, a man who spent thirty nine years in prison for a crime that he did not commit, walk out of the jail doors and into life as a free man. Surrounded by a sea of microphones and questions, Ricky shrugged off questions about systematic injustice and the twelve year old whose testimony led to his incarceration. “I’m just glad to be out. I’m glad to be free.” At lunch a few hours later, Dean Gillispie, a Dayton exoneree, looked at Ricky and asked him if he’d used the bathroom yet. “Those sinks,” Dean said, “they just turn on by themselves.” When Ricky laughed, Dean gestured towards a line of exonerees and said, “It’s hard to get used to, but we’ll take care of you. You’re our brother now, you’re one of us. ”

Nothing follows the “I” of my elevator speech because what I am doing is not about me. My job is not about accumulating credentials, but about a man who, after almost four decades in jail had the compassion to forgive the kid who put him there. It’s about Dean, his line of brothers, and the other innocent men and women who still sit behind bars waiting until they too can throw their hands up and say, “I’m free.


*This article was first published in the Dayton Federal Bar Association Newsletter, Winter edition.

UC Law Partners with urban business accelerator MORTAR

Entrepreneurship and Community Development Clinic at the College of Law cultivates new partnership while providing students real-world client counseling experience.

Cincinnati, OH—The Entrepreneurship and Community Development Clinic (ECDC) at the University of Cincinnati College of Law has launched a new partnership with MORTAR, providing legal services to startup business owners while providing law students with opportunities to use and enhance their lawyering skills.

“We’re excited to announce that the ECDC has now partnered with MORTAR, one of Cincinnati’s newest business accelerators,” said Lew Goldfarb, Director of the ECDC at the University of Cincinnati College of Law. “Partnerships like these are great for the community. Entrepreneurs and small businesses benefit from critical legal services they may not otherwise be able to afford and students develop their legal skills.”

MORTAR, based in Over-the-Rhine, targets non-traditional entrepreneurs from underserved urban communities and offers them the opportunity to build or expand a business through a nine-week entrepreneurship course.  MORTAR graduated its first class of 15 entrepreneurs this April. This summer, students from UC will work under the supervision of Goldfarb and local practicing attorneys, providing legal services for MORTAR graduates. 

"For many small business owners, being able to afford appropriate legal counsel is a dream - but thanks to UC law we are able to connect MORTAR program participants to the valuable resources and knowledge they need to guide them in the right direction,” said MORTAR co-founder, Allen Woods. “This partnership is an essential component in our mission to remove barriers to entry for nontraditional entrepreneurs, increasing their chances for success." 

Mortar and the ECDC hope to expand the partnership beyond the summer months, offering year-round legal assistance to future students and graduates of Mortar.  Dana Higgins, recent MORTAR graduate and owner of vegan/Jamaican soul food catering start up, JameriSol, has already begun leveraging the partnership.

“As a new business is forming it is important to have legal representation so that once your business is up and running you have operating agreements, intellectual property protection, and a separation of personal and business assets,”  said Higgins. “Having input from soon-to-be lawyers is a priceless opportunity that benefits them and us.”

Since 2010, the Entrepreneurship and Community Development Clinic (ECDC) has provided valuable "hands-on" training to 108 law students, representing 153 local businesses on nearly 700 legal matters - providing nearly $1 million of free legal assistance for the benefit of the local economy.

"In addition to gaining some valuable practical experience, it's important for our students to gain an appreciation for pro bono service,” said Goldfarb.  Undoubtedly, their experience working with MORTAR and some of its companies will help accomplish that."

UC law students participating in the Mortar Summer Fellowship in Entrepreneurship work collaboratively at the College of Law as well as one-on-one with clients at MORTAR’s Vine Street office in Over-the-Rhine.  Law student John Sarra recognizes the impact his work, and that of MORTAR, can have on this rapidly changing neighborhood.

“While the expanding entrepreneurship spirit in the Over-The-Rhine neighborhood and elsewhere is great for the city, not everyone has been able to reap the benefits. This program will assist individuals who otherwise might not have the means to turn their ideas into successful businesses,” said Sarra.

For UC law students, the opportunity to leverage their legal skills to help an individual achieve their goal of starting a business can be a personally rewarding experience as well.

"My mother opened her own business when I was ten years old,” said Cindy Moore. “I saw firsthand the struggles of an entrepreneur - now I get the chance to help make the journey for other entrepreneurs a little less difficult.”

Goldfarb, who taught MORTAR’s first legal class this February with two of his students and volunteers on the nonprofit’s Board of Advisors, acknowledges the partnership as an important part of Cincinnati’s start up eco-system.  

“Cincinnati is quickly becoming an entrepreneurial hotbed,” said Goldfarb.  “The more partnerships we can form to provide resources for entrepreneurs and startups, the better and more vibrant our city will be. That’s good for Cincinnati, and good for our students and graduates.”


About the Entrepreneurship and Community Development Clinic at the College of Law

The Entrepreneurship and Community Development Clinic partners local law students with small business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs, representing them on transactional legal issues critical to their success. Client services include assistance and counseling on entity selection and formation, regulatory compliance and licensing, advice on trademark and copyright protection, and lease and contract review, negotiation, and preparation. Through its work, the ECDC hopes to give students a tremendous learning experience and to contribute to the economic development and revitalization of Cincinnati and surrounding communities. 

Human Rights Quarterly Receives High Rankings by Google for 2nd year

For the second year in a row, the Human Rights Quarterly has been ranked as the number two most-cited international law journal by Google. The Quarterly is recognized as a leading academic journal in the human rights field.

The Human Rights Quarterly, which is over 30 years old, is a multidisciplinary journal covering the range of human rights matters encompassed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Typical articles cover many of the legal aspects of human rights issues, as well as the “non law” aspects.  In its more than three decades and over a thousand articles and book reviews, the Quarterly is highly regarded in the human rights field. Its audiences and authors are represented on every part of the globe.

The Human Rights Quarterly is published by The Johns Hopkins University Press, the oldest university press in the country.

Ohio Innocence Project Attorneys and Exonerees Honored at Award Ceremony by Death Penalty Advocacy Group

L to R: Attorneys Gilbert, Godsey, Howe; Exonerees Bridgeman,
Jackson, Ajamu; Attorney Mills.

Ohio Innocence Project Director Mark Godsey, OIP attorney Brian Howe and exonerees received a “Special Recognition” award on May 7 in Beverly Hills, CA.  

Cincinnati, OH—The University of Cincinnati College of Law’s Professor Mark Godsey, Ohio Innocence Project (OIP) attorney Brian Howe, and three exonerees were recognized with the “Rose Elizabeth Bird Commitment to Justice Award” at the 24th Annual Death Penalty Focus Awards dinner, held on May 7 in Beverly Hills, CA.  Death Penalty Focus, founded in 1988, is an organization committed to the abolition of the death penalty through public education, grassroots organizing and political advocacy, media outreach, and domestic and international coalition building.  The award recognizes individuals whose actions and stories bring to light the flaws in the US judicial system. 

Actors Mike Farrell and Ed Asner

Wrote Mike Farrell, the organization’s president, in an email about the award, “Your efforts which resulted in the exoneration of these men for a crime they did not commit are an incredible accomplishment. It is cases like these which further illustrate the importance of our work to end the death penalty.”  Farrell, an actor and activist, is well-known for his role as Captain B.J. Honeycutt from the hit-TV show M.A.S.H.  Event attendees included: Ed Asner, known for his Emmy Award-winnign role as Lou Grant during the 70s and early 80s on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and spin-off "Lou Grant and as Ed Wunclear on "The Boondocks', among many other film and TV roles; actress Amy Brenneman, known for her role in the TV-series "Judging Amy", Violet Turner in "Private Practice", and Laurie Garvey in HBO's "The Leftovers"; Larry Flynt, Jr., publisher and president of Larry Flynt Publications; and many others.

Godsey and Howe were recognized for their representation of Ricky Jackson. The OIP’s investigation also ultimately freed Jackson’s co-defendants, Wiley Bridgeman and Kwame (Bridgeman) Ajamu, who—along with Jackson—were honored for their courage and commitment.  The men together served over 100 years in prison for a crime they did not commit; many of those years were spent on death row. Jackson has the tragic distinction of setting the record for the longest-serving person to be exonerated in U.S. history. They were exonerated in November 2014 after a key prosecution witness, Eddie Vernon, recanted his story that he saw the men shoot and kill Cleveland, OH businessman Harold Franks in 1975.

In addition to the OIP team and exonerees, several other individuals and organizations were recognized for their work at the event. Awardees included Dale Baich, an Assistant Federal Public Defender, who defended Joseph Wood, a man whose botched two-hour execution in Arizona last year was deemed by many to violate the Eighth Amendment; Rabbi Leonard Beerman, a founder of the DPF and lifelong opponent of capital punishment; and the program “Death Row Stories,” an 8-part CNN series exploring cases that pose hard questions about capital punishment and the justice system.

Attorneys for the exonerees are: Mark Godsey, Brian Howe'08, David Mills, Terry Gilbert

Actress Amy Brenneman.

About the Lois and Richard Rosenthal Institute for Justice/Ohio Innocence Project

Harnessing the energy and intellect of law students as its driving force, the OIP seeks to identify and assist inmates in Ohio prisons who are actually innocent of the crimes they were convicted of committing.  Innocence Projects across the country have freed more than hundreds of wrongfully convicted inmates to date. The Ohio Innocence Project to date has helped 23 individuals obtain their long-sought freedom.

Read more about Ricky Jackson’s story

Learn more about the Ohio Innocence Project.

OIP Nets Another Triple Win; Defendants To Be Set Free After 18 Years in Prison

Legal advocacy from the Ohio Innocence Project at the University of Cincinnati has helped set three men wrongfully imprisoned for murder on the path to freedom.

Cincinnati — Today three men are one step closer to freedom after being wrongly incarcerated for 18 years.  Derrick Wheatt, Laurese Glover and Eugene Johnson had their convictions for the 1995 murder of Clifton Hudson Jr. thrown out after nearly a decade of legal advocacy from the Ohio Innocence Project (OIP). 

Judge Nancy Margaret Russo, Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas, threw out the conviction, granted a new trial and set bond. The OIP expects bond to be met today, which will result in their clients' immediate release.

Their impending freedom came after a key eyewitness recanted her testimony and the revelation that information from police reports that cast doubt on the defendants’ guilt had not been disclosed to the trial team years earlier.  Today’s win marks the second triple exoneration for the Ohio Innocence Project (OIP), which operates out of the University of Cincinnati’s Rosenthal Institute for Justice in the College of Law. To date, the OIP has freed 23 people on grounds of innocence, who together served more than 500 years in prison for crimes they did not commit.   

 “We’re excited about today’s event, but even more excited for our clients,” said Mark Godsey, the Daniel P. and Judith L. Carmichael Professor of Law and Director, Lois and Richard Rosenthal Institute for Justice/Ohio Innocence Project. “They have been fighting to prove their innocence for nearly 20 years. They had tried for exoneration twice before, and had come close in the past.  OIP has worked on the case since 2006, and are happy to be with them as they finally taste their long-sought freedom.” 

The OIP represented defendants Wheatt and Glover; Johnson was represented by attorneys Brett  Murner and Jim Valentine. Additionally, co-counsel on this case was Carmen Naso, Senior Instructor of Law, and the law students at the Milton A. Kramer Law Clinic, Case Western Reserve School of Law in Cleveland, OH. The OIP and Kramer Law Clinic partnered on this case and plan to work together on additional cases in the future.

“UC donors who contributed to the UC OIP’s tremendous success provided case workers with the funds needed to facilitate their pursuit of justice,” said UC Foundation President Rodney M. Grabowski. “Since its founding in 2003, more than 600 donors have contributed more than $5.3 million toward the OIP’s efforts. We are forever grateful for their generosity.”


A Murder Many Years Ago

On February 10, 1995, in East Cleveland, Ohio, 19-year-old Clifton Hudson Jr. was found murdered, shot multiple times. At the time, witnesses reported seeing a person wearing dark clothing and a dark hat at the scene. Three juveniles—Wheatt, Glover and Johnson—happened to be near the scene. But, they emphasized, when the shooting started, they sped off. All three later provided the police with descriptions of the shooter that matched the basic descriptions given by other witnesses. But in a twist of events, they were charged with the crime.

A year later in 1996, the three were convicted of Hudson’s murder, based on their presence at the scene and identification by Tamika Harris, then a 14-year-old. Harris originally reported to police that she saw the shooter get in and out of the defendants’ truck; but, she insisted, she never saw the shooter’s face. It was this tip, though, that led to the group’s initial arrest.

At the trial, Harris changed her story, admitting that she never saw the shooter actually get in or out of the truck. She testified, however, that she could positively identify Eugene Johnson as the shooter. Additionally, the prosecution found what it alleged to be gunshot residue on Wheatt and Johnson. They offered to completely drop charges against Glover if he testified against his friends and also offered Wheatt probation for his testimony. Both refused and continued to assert their innocence. Unfortunately, they were convicted; Wheatt and Johnson were sentenced to 18 years to life in prison; Glover was sentenced to 15 years to life.


Finding Grounds for a New Trial

Through the years the three men continued to maintain their innocence. Then in 2004, Johnson’s attorneys, Murner and Valentine, filed a motion for a new trial on the grounds that Harris had recanted her testimony. Now an adult and in nursing school, she admitted she could not see the shooter’s face from where she stood and that she never saw anyone get in or out of the truck.

She relayed that when she went to the police station years earlier, the officers told her they had found the people responsible, showed her photos of the three defendants, and asked which of the three was the shooter. Harris said she picked the one whose jacket was closest to the one she saw: Johnson’s.   Though the trial court granted a new trial on this basis, it was overturned on appeal, in part because of the alleged gunshot residue evidence.

Two years later in 2006, the OIP accepted the case. Attorneys and fellows spent hundreds of hours reviewing evidence, interviewing potential witnesses and filing motions. In fact, Brian Howe, now the attorney of record, previously worked on this case as an OIP fellow. 

In 2009, OIP attorney David Laing filed another new trial motion based on advancements in knowledge about gunshot residue.  Specifically, the type of testing used in 1995 is known to be particularly prone to false positives from other items, and is no longer used by the FBI.  Further, recent studies showed the high likelihood of gunshot residue contamination from police sources, especially when the tests are not performed on scene or immediately upon arrest.  This motion, however, was denied. 

Late in 2013 a break in the case came when the OIP received the police reports.  The reports included information that was not raised at the original trial, including the existence of two witnesses who confirmed that the shooter came from a nearby post office lot, not the defendants’ truck.  One of those witnesses even claimed he recognized the shooter as a sibling of one of his classmates.  The reports also showed that unknown people in a different car had shot at the victim's brother just days before the crime, and that someone had threatened the victim himself the day before the murder. There was no known connection between any of those threats and the defendants. 

The OIP, on behalf of the defendants, filed another new trial motion on the basis that this information was never disclosed to the defense.  A hearing on the motion was held on Jan. 29, 2015, led by OIP attorney Brian Howe and the Kramer Clinic’s Carmen Naso.  “The evidence at the hearing was overwhelming,” said Howe. “None of these men should have ever been convicted."  

A Day Worth Waiting For

“This has been a long day coming for Mr. Johnson, Mr. Wheatt and Mr. Glover,” said Howe. “I know it must be an incredible feeling. It is particularly important and gratifying for me because I worked on the gunshot residue motions as an OIP fellow. It’s incredible to see all of our hard work come to fruition.”

Special thanks to the many individuals who spent hundreds of hours working on this case over the years. The list includes attorneys: Brian Howe, David Laing, and Carrie Wood; and student fellows: Shabnam Allen, Nicole Billec, Amanda Bleiler, Scott Brenner, Chris Brinkman, Chris Brown, Eric Gooding, John Hill, Matt Katz, Eric Kmetz, Amanda Rieger, Bryant Strayer, Queenie Takougang, and Brandon Brown, Amanda Sanders and Shaun McPherron, who spent significant time in East Cleveland last summer canvassing the neighborhood speaking to witnesses.