For Justin Brooks, a lawyer who investigates and litigates claims of wrongful conviction with the California Innocence Project, navigating paperwork and bureaucracy has not been enough to free his clients.
Brooks, who is director and co-founder of the project, and fellow attorneys Alissa Bjerkhoel and Michael Semanchik agree their clients also need public awareness. So, on April 27, the lawyers began a roughly 600-mile, two-month-long walk from the California Western School of Law in San Diego to Sacramento, where they will present Governor Jerry Brown with clemency petitions for the California 12. In each of these inmates' cases, the attorneys have reached the end of the road in legal recourse, yet there is compelling evidence that the incarcerated inmates are innocent.
"With some [cases] we've just run out of legal options even though we know they're factually innocent," says Brooks. "There are legal technicalities that we can't get around. But what we can do is file these petitions and hope the governor notices them. And we can raise awareness."
During their Innocence March, the attorneys will attend rallies and give speeches; an RV will chug along behind them, providing a place to sleep (they are still collecting donations for food and gas). On June 20, the public is invited to join the attorneys on the march's final leg to the governor's office.
For the California 12, justice has been particularly elusive (just one, Daniel Larsen, was released from prison in mid-March, and even he could be returned since his overturned conviction is on appeal). A day of walking will be dedicated to each inmate, and some of their family members will join the attorneys on the road. Mabel and Charles Miles, whose son Guy has served 13 years in prison for a robbery to which others have now confessed, will walk in their son's name on May 4.
"I have very little faith in the justice system," says Mabel Miles from her home in Carson. "When I'm at jury duty, I always let the judge know that. But I'm very excited about this walk. [The Innocence Project] has kept us involved and informed, and the fact that they believe in [Guy's] innocence, that makes all the difference to us."
For more information visit www.innocencemarch.com