Over the past 30 years, the Innocence Project has exonerated 365 people in prison due to DNA testing, 20 of whom were on death row. Based on these numbers, it is estimated that at least 1% of the U.S. prison population is wrongly convicted, though experts believe the numbers could be higher.
Survivors Speak founder and executive director Trische Duckworth wants to give a voice to that 1% here in Washtenaw County.
"We want to roll up our sleeves and get to work," Duckworth says. "We want justice, and we want legislators to keep people accountable."
Duckworth became inspired to advocate for the wrongly convicted through a local case she worked on as a social worker in 2014.
Brothers Dennis and Dameko Vesey were convicted for a triple homicide that occurred in Ypsilanti in 2003. For more than 10 years, the brothers have appealed the court's decision and continued to claim their innocence without success.
Duckworth says this case opened her eyes to the difficulties of exoneration and allowed her to hear other stories of individuals who were wrongfully convicted. The summit was created with the intent of giving those victims a platform for their experiences.
The Wrongful Convictions Summit will host a series of speakers, including a recent exoneree, community advocates, and U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell. A panel facilitated by Bill Proctor, an investigative consultant and former investigative reporter from Channel 7 news, will follow the speakers. The panel will feature six community members, including Professor Marla Mitchell-Cichon from Western Michigan University's Cooley Law Innocence Project, local government officials, and Jefferey Deskovic, an exoneree and founder of The Deskovic Foundation.
Duckworth says the event will be an opportunity for attendees and speakers to share their stories among themselves and with the public. She says it's important for the broader community to realize the impact a wrongful conviction can have and prevent it from happening to others.
"Everyone thinks (wrongful conviction) is not their issue, until it happens to them," Duckworth says. "Then we want the whole world to pay attention. It's on us to put the proper people in place to ensure justice for all. It's our responsibility as a community."
Event information and registration are available here.
Emily Benda is a freelance writer based in Ann Arbor. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo courtesy of Trische Duckworth.