Student Story: Exonerating the Innocent
My PILA Fellowship Experience
by Lindsay Anglin
After hearing the executive director of the Georgia Innocence Project speak about her work at a Public Interest Law Association career panel last fall, I knew I wanted to assist the project in its mission to use DNA evidence to free those unjustly incarcerated in Georgia and Alabama prisons.
I was moved by stories of innocent people spending large portions of their lives in prison for crimes they did not commit. This summer I was able to intern at the Georgia Innocence Project, where I hoped to find physical evidence that could lead to its next exoneration. It was a unique and rewarding experience that was made possible thanks to a PILA fellowship.
Over the summer, I conducted fact-intensive case investigations to evaluate inmates’ claims of innocence. I reviewed trial transcripts, police reports and forensic findings from each case and drafted memos describing the facts and the physical evidence, if any, that still existed.
The final investigatory stage, which involves locating physical evidence that can be DNA tested to prove a client’s innocence, was the most important and—sometimes–the most frustrating. I had to close several cases because the only physical evidence that would have led to a client’s exoneration had been destroyed or lost by the state agencies and offices involved.
In early June, I began working on a case that the project had been investigating for years.
The client had been convicted of rape and kidnapping in 1990. For 22 years he had maintained his innocence. In my attempt to locate the physical evidence from his case, I contacted every local agency or office that had anything to do with the case and each of them—the county police department, the district attorney’s office, and the court clerk—had no evidence remaining from his case.
After about six weeks of searching, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation sent me an evidence chain of custody report stating they had destroyed all of the evidence from this client’s case in 1993. Knowing the client was serving life in prison, the GBI offered to check their evidence lockers and verify there was no evidence remaining.
On the last day of my internship, my contact at the GBI called and told me she had located the supposedly destroyed rape kit from my client’s case. With this evidence, the client is one step closer to exoneration.
The process is lengthy; it may be years before he is released, if at all. But I am thankful to have played even a small part in his potential exoneration.
My PILA fellowship enabled me to cultivate my interest in criminal defense, gain practical legal experience, and work with a talented and dedicated group of attorneys and interns.