The highlight for me was getting to meet Claude Simmons Jr. and Christopher Scott, who were co-defendants exonerated in a non-DNA case thanks to the work of the UT-Austin Actual Innocence Clinic. Their example shows in stark terms why the innocence clinics are needed. Their case was initially considered by the clinic at the University of Houston back before the state provided funding for such work. The U of H folks saw that the case might have merit, but had to reject it because of a lack of resources to travel to Dallas for investigations. At the time, said deputy director Cassandra Jeu, the work was done on an all-volunteer basis and out-of-town cases couldn't be investigated unless a student happened to live in the area and did investigative work while home on vacation.
Not long after innocence clinics began to receive state funding, the UT-Austin clinic decided to take up their case. Four years later Simmons and Scott were released, and the actually guilty parties identified.
These law school innocence clinics, funded annually at just $100,000 each per year, arguably get more bang for the buck than other legal services paid for by the state because of the multiplier effect from so many law students working on cases. What's more, as a student from the UT clinic described, the cases give students hands-on legal experience dealing with courts and clients that makes them better lawyers, even if they choose not to go into criminal law in their professional life.
The final speaker at the presser was Cory Session, brother of Timothy Cole who was posthumously exonerated and pardoned after dying in prison from an asthma attack, falsely convicted based on an erroneous ID from a photo array. The Dallas News quoted Cory thusly, and it's a good note to end on:
"They have done admirable works at these clinics," Session said. "If anything I would like the funding to be increased...I often wonder if there had been a law school clinic back in 1999, if my brother Tim would have made it out, but suffice to say he didn't. We want to make sure there is not another Tim Cole, that not another innocent person has to be in prison a day longer."