Recognizing the Cooley Innocence Project and National Wrongful Conviction Day

The Cooley Law School Innocence Project, in partnership with Warner Norcross + Judd LLP, hosted a free panel discussion on Oct. 2  at the Warner’s Downtown Grand Rapids office with exonerees of the Innocence Project, the only post-conviction DNA innocence organization in the state of Michigan.

In recognition of National Wrongful Conviction Day, attendees of the panel event listened to the experiences of exonerees Kenneth Nixon, Gilbert Poole, George DeJesus and his brother, Melvin DeJesus. Nixon and Poole were both exonerated in 2021, and the DeJesus brothers were exonerated in 2022.

The four men on the panel shared their experiences, put in a greater perspective when described as almost 100 years — combined between the four panelists — behind bars for crimes they did not commit.

Besides dealing with the reality of serving time for crimes they did not commit, the panelists also shared the frustrations that came along with fighting to be released as well as the struggles with adjusting to being released without family or support of loved ones after serving so many years or even having the proper identification to access the means needed to survive, such as access to money or a place to live.

The situations varied for all the panelists but the common thread has been having the support of the Innocence Project in assisting them through the reintegration process and beyond. The Innocence Project, staffed by Cooley Law School students who work under the supervision of Cooley Innocence Project attorneys, continues to work with the exonerees, even beyond their release from the system, something that the panelists pointed out goes above and beyond their responsibilities to them.

Christopher E. Tracy, partner at Warner Norcross + Judd, described the event as a celebration, recognizing the project for its efforts to rectify injustices in the justice system. 

Photo by Shanika Carter

“The social contract of a country like ours, a democracy like ours, and how it’s going to work, has to do these things correctly,” says Tracy, adding, “and when we get it wrong, then something like the Innocence Project is thankfully there to rectify that.”

Wrongful Conviction Day, in its 10th year, began as an effort of the Innocence Network. The Innocence Network is an affiliation of organizations dedicated to providing pro-bono legal and investigative services to individuals seeking to prove innocence of crimes for which they have been convicted, working to redress the causes of wrongful convictions and supporting the exonerated after they are freed.
Since it was established in 2001, the Innocence Project has screened more than 6,000 cases and successfully exonerated eight individuals. Visit to donate to and support the work of the Cooley Innocence Project.

Shanika P. Carter is an author, freelance writer, editor, and adjunct communications instructor. She is also the Principal Consultant of The Write Flow & Vibe, LLC, offering writing, editing and content development services to a variety of clientele, including fellow authors and businesses. Shanika is the author of the book To Lead or Not to Lead, which was released in 2019.
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