Friday, September 21, 2007

Innocence Matters, Chapter Five

We actually had intended to wrap up our “Innocence Matters” series yesterday, but the strangest things keep falling into our email box. The latest thing is both good news and...well, kind of weird news. Duke University yesterday announced that in the wake of the lacrosse scandal, in which three team players were wrongly accused of rape and vilified in the media and by Durham’s (former) disgraced district attorney, the university will pump $1.25 million over the next five years into merging and expanding its Wrongful Convictions Clinic and Innocence Project.

This is great news. Duke already is a top ten law school in many ways and this will only enhance its reputation. And I like the fact that these are private funds – if the clinic does its work too well, district attorneys won’t be able to lobby state legislators to cut the project’s purse strings.

But I also find this to be somewhat weird news. I’m thinking right now of Samuel A. Poole, Christopher Spicer, Timothy Hennis, Alfred Rivera and Alan Gell.

Who are these people? Five individuals, wrongly convicted and sentenced to death, who later turned out to be innocent and were set free. They could have been executed. And yet, the “Lacrosse 3” were never convicted and never spent a single night in jail.

And lest one fails to make the connection between the lacrosse scandal and the university’s generous largesse, Duke’s public relations office makes it clear in the lead paragraph of their press release:

“DURHAM, N.C. - In the wake of the now-debunked rape case against three lacrosse players, Duke University will establish a center devoted to justice and training lawyers to fight wrongful convictions, president Richard Brodhead said Wednesday.”

Frankly, I don’t want to be too cynical about this. It’s true that class and race matters in our society – matters too much. It’s also true that the clinic wasn’t funded to this extent because of a handful of lower-income, marginalized death row inmates who turned out not to be guilty. It was funded because of the bad things that happened to the three upper-income, affluent lacrosse players, who had the best lawyers money can buy. And bad things did happen to these three young men, no doubt about it. But unlike the death row exonorees, they were never convicted of any crime and they never spent a single night in jail.

But it’s also true that great things will come from this clinic.

For one thing, it will be headed by Law Prof James Coleman and Associate Dean Theresa Newman. Coleman has a great reputation, and according to an in-the-know source of mine, Theresa Newman is a wonderful human being who has done fantastic work with the already-existing, student-run Innocence Project.

So, bully on Duke!

(To see an earlier blog on the Nifong/lacrosse scandal, go here.)

1 comment:

April said...

Whatever it takes. If it takes rich white kids being railroaded, then so be it. Everyone will benefit from this new project (it sounds like, anyway).