Tuesday, February 10, 2009

UK program helps free innocent prisoners

February 10, 2009

By Kelly Berger KENTUCKY KERNEL Lexington, KY

UK law students working on the Kentucky Innocence Project may gain real-world legal experience, but working to prove prisoners’ claims of innocence is the most rewarding part, said the project’s director.

“The most rewarding part is to be there when an innocent person walks out of prison and to see the smiles and tears on the faces of our clients and his family, and the students who have worked so hard to help him,” KIP Project Coordinator Gordon Rahn said. “When that happens, you know you have done something right.”

UK is one of four law schools in Kentucky that offers its students the opportunity to participate in the KIP externship, which helps prove actual claims of innocence by Kentucky prisoners. The program was founded in 2001 and is administrated by the Kentucky Department of Public Advocacy.

Through April 2008, due to the efforts of KIP and the prisoner’s claims of innocence, six men and women have been released from prison. KIP does not limit cases to those where DNA evidence exists.

To enroll in the year-long, four-credit-hour course, students must be a second- or third-year law student.

At UK, the program has given students the chance to help those wrongfully convicted and gain valuable professional skills.

Third-year law student James Kay said he has received a hands-on way to work with clients. It also provides a valuable service, he said.

“Our justice system isn’t perfect, sometimes people fall through the cracks, but it’s good to look back on things because the system doesn’t always work,” Kay said.

Through the program, students are able to learn from the flaws of the legal system and gain a better understanding than they would from a classroom curriculum.

“KIP has taught me a lot more than any law book ever has,” third-year law student Melissa Randall said.

But it isn’t only rewards and success. Rahn has experienced many difficulties with KIP and said the hardest part “is to believe someone is innocent but not be able to find the new evidence required to prove his or her innocence.”

“It is difficult to walk away from that case,” Rahn said.

That challenge is the force that drives the students to work hard on investigations.

“We want to make sure we have looked at everything possible before making that visit to a prison to tell a client that we believe him but we can’t help him,” Rahn said.

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