Tiffin University’s March Good Morning World lecture featured the Ohio Innocence Project. The lecture, Wrongful Conviction—Getting the Innocent out of Prison, was co-sponsored by Tiffin University’s School of Criminal Justice and Social Sciences, Center for Justice and Security, and Office of Development and Public Affairs.
In the past 25 years, more than 1,200 inmates have been proven innocent and released from prison after serving time – sometimes decades – for crimes they didn’t commit. The Ohio Innocence Project (OIP) has been one of the leaders in this movement. To date, the OIP has obtained the release of 17 innocent Ohio inmates, who together served nearly 300 years in prison.
Mark Godsey is Professor of Law and Director of the OIP at the College of Law of the University of Cincinnati. Dean Gillispie is a recipient of the project’s services and he spoke about the project’s purpose and impact.
Godsey founded the organization at the University of Cincinnati after experiencing the impact on students and the inmates they helped while at the University of Kentucky. “Students were so moved by the story of an inmate they visited,” he said. “They could see the innocence in his eyes and hear it in his voice.”
The Ohio Innocence Project and others across the nation utilize law students to identify inmates who were wrongly convicted. Typically, DNA evidence proves innocence, but a new witness, new expert testimony, or evidence of police misconduct has also helped in cases.
“We just want justice,” said Godsey.
Dean Gillispie spent 20 years in prison after being wrongly convicted of raping three women in Dayton, Ohio in 1988. His case was taken on by the Ohio Innocence Project group who found that police misconduct, the hiding or destruction of evidence, was why Gillispie had been convicted.
The original investigation of the crimes resulted in Gillispie being ruled out, but when a new officer took over the file, that information was sanitized and discarded. Gillispie was then put back on the suspect list.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Gillispie said. “The case was two and half years old when they came questioned me,” he said. “I couldn’t really give them answers because I couldn’t remember.”
There was evidence to corroborate Gillispie’s alibi of camping with friends in Kentucky, but it was destroyed by police. A biased, unethical investigation and trial resulted in his incarceration.
“You get the Innocence Project to work on your case and it’s like winning the lottery,” Gillispie said.
Despite still being on bond and facing appeals, Godsey is sure Gillispie will live freely for the rest of his life. Godsey looks forward to continuing to speak about the project. He stated, “If one person knows the difference and does more to seek the truth, then it is worth it.”
TU’s Dr. Steven Hurwitz, Professor of Psychology and Criminal Justice said, “This is a cautionary tale of how abuses in the criminal justice system can devastate someone’s life, but at the same time, it is a reaffirming story that abuses can be fixed when they happen.”