Wrongfully Convicted Felons Examine Legal System at UVA Event
The University of Virginia is working to get wrongfully convicted people out from behind bars.
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - The University of Virginia is working to get wrongfully convicted people out from behind bars.
The UVA Law School teamed up with the Virginia chapter of the Innocence Project to raise money for the strenuous legal work it takes to overturn false convictions.
The Innocence Project invited some of the people it has helped to come share their stories of getting out from behind bars and show others just how important the group's work is.
“Here I stand after the Innocence Project’s diligence," Darnell Phillips, who was recently exonerated, said.
Phillips's life has changed dramatically in the past week.
"I was charged with rape, abduction, and malicious wounding of a 10-year-old girl in the Virginia Beach area," Phillips said.
Now, Phillips is out of prison and on parole after being wrongfully convicted 27 years ago.
"I never really gave up hope,” Phillips said. “I always held on. And I had wrote many types of groups to give me some type of assistance."
Phillips finally got the assistance he was pleading for.
The Virginia Innocence Project, a pro bono clinic that seeks exoneration for wrongfully convicted people, stepped in to help.
“We're hoping to get the public to engage in the stories of the wrongfully convicted men and women," Dean Strang, an attorney, said.
On Tuesday, October 2, the Innocence Project held a fundraiser to help clear its backlog and invited famous alumni from the criminal justice field to discuss the issues associated with wrongful convictions.
“The importance of exonerating the innocent isn't limited to giving them their lives back - essential as that is - the importance is that it extends to trying to get the person who really did commit a crime,” Strang said.
Strang, who’s featured on the popular Netflix documentary series "Making a Murderer" as the defense attorney for Steven Avery, made a special appearance.
"In the end, we as citizens have to own the system,” Strang said. “And what it does, it does in our names. And we ought to be concerned that it’s getting it right as often as it possibly can."
Phillips says he’s grateful for the Virginia Innocence Project, and says its work needs to be prioritized.
"I'm living proof that there are people who do care,” Phillips said. “There are people who do have the knowledge, the insight, the fortitude to fight with you. Just don't give up hope."
The Innocence Project clinic at UVA says it takes millions of dollars to free one person and it has a backlog of many people behind bars that want the group's help.