The Innocence Network Conference 2019 has now come and gone.
#INConf2019 was a remarkable experience which I am still processing, having experienced so many joyous encounters coupled with many sad and even rending moments, which in many ways are a microcosm of wrongful conviction work as a whole.
Seeing the some 200 exonerees that were in attendance, hearing their stories of tragedy and eventual elation, learning about case after case of innocence-clear-as-day having to clear hurdle after hurdle in courtrooms that seem entrenched in the past, fixated on maintaining convictions, clinging to outmoded ideologies, and unproven “sciences”, all under the banner of what we call our “justice system”.
The harsh reality of criminal justice in this country is never more clear than when face to face with men and women who spent sometimes decades incarcerated as innocent people, yet that is juxtaposed by the zeal, passion, dedication, and hope that all but oozes from the pores of the countless men and women advocates for the accused, for the incarcerated, for the innocent. To be surrounded by so many gifted attorneys, social workers, community leaders, and everyday people who want to help others was truly inspirational.
I learned so much over the days that I was there. I was particularly enriched attending the @NACDL training/conference that took place all day Thursday. Some of the topics included the ways genealogical DNA services are being used by law enforcement to solve cold cases, and the implications of such investigation. DNA was also the focus of the Probabilistic Genotyping session wherein we’re confronting the next generation of DNA testing, it’s amazing sensitivity and the challenges of subjective interpretation that result. Lindsay Herf, Director of Arizona Justice Project, lead a fascinating panel on Shaken Baby Syndrome (now often referred to as AHT, Abusive Head Trauma) discussing, among other things, documented cases of tragic children deaths from very short falls (as low as 3 feet). For decades people have been getting convicted of murder on the false notion that a short fall could not kill a child, and that certain symptoms could only be the result of SBS – we now know that there are dozens of other non-criminal causes of those very same symptoms.
Almost always the most moving moment of the weekend is when the exonerees from 2018 are called to the stage one at a time. In 2018 alone there were 151 people exonerated. Yeah. Let that sink in. Hearing their names called seeing them ascend the stage, hugging their fellow exonerees, is always a joyous and beautiful event.
And ultimately the weekend turns out to be a great time to spend time with the awesome people that I am truly blessed to work with on a daily basis. I’m so thankful for Audrey, Raquel, Rachelle, Jenna, David, Ruby, Karen, Jasmin, and Katherine who were able to attend the conference. I want to say a heartfelt THANK YOU especially to Mike and Justin, who made this all possible. Mike secured the grant that funds my position (Justin’s idea), enabling me to have this job, and learn so much as part of this team and community.