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Oklahoma Innocence Project Celebrates First Exonerations

16-May-2016

Since 1992, the Innocence Project has been working to exonerate wrongfully convicted people, often through DNA evidence. The national litigation and public policy organization also works to reform the criminal justice system to prevent further miscarriages of justice through wrongful conviction. According to its website, the mission of the Innocence Project is "to free the staggering number of innocent people who remain incarcerated, and to bring reform to the system responsible for their unjust imprisonment."

Since its inception, the Innocence Project has exonerated 341 people through DNA evidence, and in doing so, has also uncovered 147 real perpetrators of the crime for which someone else was convicted. The Oklahoma Innocence Project now adds its first two exonerations to the list. These exonerations come some 24 years after the founding of the Innocence Project. While it has taken Oklahoma nearly a quarter of a century to obtain a DNA exoneration, that time span lies largely in part to the state's laws: 

  • In 2013, Oklahoma became the 50th state to pass a post-conviction DNA testing law.
  • The state has no eyewitness identification reform policy.
  • Oklahoma does not require recorded interrogations.

The Oklahoma Innocence Project launched at Oklahoma City University School of Law in 2011. That same year, it began working on the cases of Malcolm Scott and De’Marchoe Carpenter, both of whom were only 18 years old when they were convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison plus 170 years.

Scott and Carpenter have each spent 22 years in prison--the entirety of their young adulthood--before being declared innocent of the murder that sent them to prison in the first place.

Scott and Carpenter were convicted of first degree murder in the drive-by shooting death of 19-year-old Karen Summers. Their conviction came largely from the statements of witnesses, who later claimed they were coerced by investigators into pinpointing Scott and Carpenter as being in the vehicle, and from a third man convicted in the case, Michael Wilson, who was subsequently executed after conviction of an unrelated murder. Prior to his execution, Wilson professed the innocence of Scott and Carpenter and named two other men as being in the vehicle with him at the time of Summers's shooting. Those two men, Billy Don Alverson and Richard Harjo, were convicted along with Wilson of the unrelated murder, and both men admitted to being in the vehicle with him during the drive-by shooting that killed Summers.

Alverson, who was also subsequently executed, said that he would have testified that Scott and Carpenter had not been in the vehicle, but that attorneys never called him to testify.

Harjo stated police never even contacted him regarding the Summers murder.

For five years, the Oklahoma Innocence Project worked on the Scott and Carpenter case. Although they have achieved exonerations for these two wrongfully convicted men, the organization does not have time to rest on its laurels. According to Executive Director Vicki Behenna, the Oklahoma Innocence Project has received more than 1,200 requests for assistance since it launched in 2011. Legal Director Christina Green adds, "We’ve been able to narrow that down to about 440 cases that we believe might have merit." She says 130 cases are "waiting in line" for the group to enlarge its staff to be able to accommodate the case load.



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