By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
The Oklahoma Innocence Project (OKIP) at Oklahoma City University School of Law will host a Catfish Fry on Sunday, October 2 at Saints Pub, 1715 NW 16th Street, in Oklahoma City’s Plaza District.
The event will raise money for the Project, which is the only organization in Oklahoma dedicated to identifying and remedying cases of wrongful conviction in the state.
For $25 supporters will receive unlimited catfish and beer from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. while enjoying live entertainment provided by several local bands scheduled during the event.
All proceeds will directly benefit the clients of the Project.
OKIP operates entirely on private donations and all services are offered free of charge to the clients.
Since opening in August 2011, the Project has received thousands of requests for assistance with cases that often take years to resolve and costs tens of thousands of dollars.
This Catfish Fry on Oct. 2 is one step in raising these much needed funds for OKIP to continue their critically important work to free others who have fallen victim to an imperfect judicial system.
“We’re really proud to partner with OKIP. It is the only organization of its kind in the state and it needs the public’s support to continue its mission helping to bring justice to those who have been failed by the courts.” said, Josh Jefferson, Saints manager. “On top of that, I think the fish fry is going to be a good time for everyone. We have great entertainment lined up and as usual, the food will be excellent.”
OKIP earned its first exonerations in May when Tulsa County District Court Judge Sharon Holmes freed Malcolm Scott and De’Marchoe Carpenter.
The two men had been in prison for 22 years, after they were wrongfully convicted of murder in a 1994 Tulsa County drive-by shooting.
OKIP’s Legal Director, Christina Green and co-counsel, Josh Lee, represented Scott and former prosecutor, now OKIP Executive Director Vicki Behenna, and Ken Sue Doerfel represented Carpenter.
Editor of The City Sentinel, Patrick McGuigan reported that at the time of the ruling Behenna stated, “There are really no words to adequately describe this moment. Malcolm and De’Marchoe have spent more than half their lives behind bars for something they didn’t do. They have been waiting for this day; their families have been waiting for this day for 20-plus years. We are so grateful to Judge Holmes for righting this terrible wrong.”
Following Judge Holmes decision Green commented. “They have become part of our lives and we are privileged to be part of theirs. Malcolm and De’Marchoe’s futures start today and we are ecstatic to stand by them as they walk away from the past and start their lives as free men.”
Today, Malcolm has enrolled in college and De’Marchoe is working for a heating and air company.
An OCU press release regarding the issue said, “The main causes of wrongful conviction are eyewitness misidentification, invalidated and improper forensic science, false confessions, informants, government misconduct and inadequate defense.”
In addition, the OKIP website states that, “While imprisoned for a crime they did not commit, Oklahoma exonerees spent from four to twenty years behind bars. Oklahoma ranks in the top 10 in the nation in terms of the number of known wrongful convictions of innocent people.”
Located in the OCU Law building, students work on OKIP cases under the supervision of Project staff.
For each case the Project hires experts, copies court documents, hires private investigators and travels to speak with witnesses, all in support of its clients.
OCU Law School Dean Valerie K. Couch said of the Project, “This is such a powerful experience for our law students. They gain hands-on experience working with clients, while learning about the inner-workings of the criminal justice system. Students learn first-hand from the Project legal team and volunteer attorneys like Josh and Ken Sue.”
However, OKIP does not receive any operating funds from the law school, relying totally on donations to do its work.
“We have an evidentiary hearing coming and that won’t be cheap, not to mention all the other cases and investigations,” said OKIP legal assistant Joyce Mayer.
Recently a grassroots effort has developed boosting awareness and support for OKIP. Saints Pub has stepped in to the host the upcoming fundraiser on Oct. 2 and another Plaza District business, Finch Creative, has totally revamped the Project’s branding as an in-kind donation effort.
“We have a lot of people counting on us and with the significance of new branding, and feeling refreshed doing the difficult work that we do, Finch Creative not only did a rebranding for us, but also for our clients,” Mayer said. “We simply can’t thank everyone enough for their support.”
To help continue the Project’s work the Catfish Fry fundraiser will be open to the public with sponsorships available for $250. To become a sponsor, call Rachel Mor at 405-208-6161. Donations can also be made at law.okcu.edu, click “Give.’
To learn more, visit okinnocence.com.