Exonerating the Wrongly Convicted

Board of Supervisors chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas presented a scroll honoring Loyola Law School’s Project for the Innocent (LPI) for their work in exonerating the wrongly convicted.

“The criminal justice system can only function if it is fair, just and protects the innocent,” Board Chair Ridley-Thomas said. “Unfortunately, sometimes the system gets it wrong and it is often people of color who bear the brunt of these wrongful convictions.

“Since 2011, LPI has secured the release of five clients who served a collective 121 years in prison for crimes they did not commit,” he added. “They have also given hope to countless other clients who know that somebody is fighting for them.”

At LPI, law students work in a yearlong clinic supervised by its founder, Professor Ethical Advocacy Laurie Levenson, legal director Paula Mitchell, program director Adam Grant, and other staff. To date, LPI has evaluated more than 1,400 cases and trained more than 130 students.

“We should never give up on securing justice, no matter how long it takes,” Prof. Levenson said. “Each person’s life is precious.”

“If anything, we need to redouble our efforts to ensure that those who are wrongfully convicted get the help they need and that we take steps to prevent wrongful convictions in the future,” she added. That is our mission; that is our promise.”

LPI successfully exonerated Marco Contreras, who was convicted in 1997 and sentenced to life in prison for attempted murder and attempted robbery in connection with a shooting at a Compton gas station. LPI found new evidence that led to his exoneration. He was released in March after serving 20 years for a crime he did not commit. As a result of LPI’s work, other men have been charged with the crime.

Contreras expressed heartfelt gratitude to LPI during the scroll presentation. “I’d like to first of all thank the Loyola Law School for everything they’ve done and also for the other work they’re doing,” he said. “I am grateful to be here today. Thank you, everybody.”