‘Project For The Innocent’: Loyola Law School on a mission to exonerate inmates

Isabell Rivera OW Contributor | 4/25/2019, midnight

“Our office receives hundreds of requests for assistance every year,” Price said. “The the investigation process is lengthy as we have to recreate the record, and track down witnesses and conduct the thorough investigation that should have been done by both law enforcement and the defense counsel at the time of the crime and the trial. This process can take years. I estimate that we are currently actively investigating in some capacity about 50 cases. We are a group of certified attorneys and 18 students now, the group of students changes every year. Each of those students has two cases. Some of those are in litigation, or about to be in litigation, and the others are just in an investigative stage.”

When asked about the racial inequalities in prison, if there were racial factors that played a role, and if the system dealt with disproportions, Price agreed.

“I believe the disparity in the minority prison population and the minority population of the U.S. is reflective of the racism and bias in our criminal justice system as well as a result of poverty that can also be linked to our country’s history of racism, ” Price said. “Everyone deserves a fair trial and when there is misconduct and/or bias due to someone’s race or ethnicity at any point from arrest to post-conviction, this will most likely result in a constitutional violation.”

Price’s recent success was that of Michael Tirpak, 43, and Reggie DeAndre Mallard, 34. Although she personally didn’t help on the case.

“Our office helped Michael Tirpak, another clinic at Loyola Law School, the Juvenile Innocence and Fair Sentencing clinic assisted Mr. Mallard,” she explained. “Our attorneys, staff and students have worked on securing Mr. Tirpak’s freedom since 2015 and could not be more thrilled that he is free and able to be with his family.”

As ABC7 News reported, the two men, who were wrongfully convicted, were released in February with the help of the Loyola Law School team. Tirpak has spent 25 years in prison for a murder he was wrongfully convicted for. Mallard has spent 16 years in prison for a crime he hasn’t committed, either.

“We get tons of letters asking for our help, so what we try to do is to look into those cases and screen them to see if they fit our screening factors whether we able to help them. Once we determined they fit into our criteria, that we would be able to help them, then we would start to investigate,” Price said. “We do try to get the old records. Some of the cases are very old, and getting the records is very difficult. It’s one of the biggest parts of the investigation in the beginning because we need to see what the record says so that we can figure out how we can dispute it.

“First we want to see what happened at trial. What went wrong, where did they fall short, did a witness say something at the stand and now saying that they lied, there are so many possibilities[...] the problem is, the Court of Appeals will destroy records, or the transcripts will get destroyed after 20 years. So people with older cases, it’s really difficult to get the court records. So that’s the first thing we’re trying to do, because a lot of times we get lucky and the Court of Appeals is behind on destruction of the records [...]. And we also get the records from whatever that client has, their family has, their former trial attorney has [...] after that, that we’re really start doing the investigation that should have been done. A lot of times, what happens is law enforcement either had tunnel vision and think that they have the right person, or there’s a witness that came forward, so the investigation stops short. So we try to do as much of thorough investigation as possible. ”