With a website headline that reads, “Freeing the innocent and unjustly incarcerated, and advocating for accurate, accountable, and fair systems of justice,” the Montana Innocence Project aims to provide an end to wrongful convictions for clients claiming innocence. The Montana Innocence Project is a part of the so-called Innocence Network: an affiliation of organizations providing pro bono legal services to those incarcerated wishing to prove their innocence. The umbrella, the Innocence Project, is a non-profit created in 1992 and is a “national litigation and public policy organization dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted people through DNA testing and reforming the criminal justice system to prevent future injustice,” according to the Montana Innocence Project website.
The Montana Innocence Project’s continued, extensive advocacy and legal representation for those seeking their help has successfully freed seven wrongfully incarcerated individuals since 2008. Most recently, a pair of University of Montana law students, Brandy Keesee and Annabelle Smith, while working with other participants in the Montana Innocence Project, were pivotal in helping free wrongfully convicted Billings man Bernard Pease. A report by NBC Montana which relayed information released by UM stated that Bernard Pease had been convicted 40 years ago based on now-invalid forensic testing methods.
Incremental steps and due diligence greatly aided the two UM law students in the effective effort to free Pease who was released in November. The Montana Innocence Project’s Legal Director, Caiti Carpenter, states, “There is a ton of legal work needed to turn over a wrongful conviction. Not only did we need to prove Bernard’s innocence with scientific data, but we needed to prove to the Board of Pardons and Parole that people wanted him back in the community.”
Often taking years and often leading to nothing, cases like Bernard Pease’s are very reassuring to those committed to the Montana Innocence Project. For more information, ways to donate or to become involved, and to request legal assistance from the Montana Innocence Project, visit their website at mtinnocenceproject.org.