Innocence Project Co-Founder Barry Scheck to be 2014 Commencement Speaker

by Alexa Millinger

The keynote speaker at the May 2014 Commencement will be Professor Barry Scheck, the co-founder of the Innocence Project, a national non-profit organization that uses DNA evidence to exonerate the wrongly convicted.

Scheck, who also gained national attention as part of the legal defense team in the O.J. Simpson trial, is currently a member of the faculty at Cardozo Law School, where he has served for thirty-five years.

Scheck’s pioneering work on DNA evidence as a tool to avoid wrongful convictions led him to co-found the Innocence Project in 1992 with his colleague Peter Neufield. The Innocence Project works to harness the power of DNA evidence as a tool to exonerate the wrongly convicted, as well as expose flaws in the system related to eyewitness identification, the reliability of coerced confessions, and other salient issues. Their work has spawned regional Innocence Projects in many states, including Connecticut. As a result, more than 300 individuals, many on death row, have been exonerated in the United States through post-conviction DNA testing.

Dean Timothy Fisher said that Scheck’s work on DNA evidence has “changed the [criminal justice] system,” and called Scheck’s contributions “one of the most important things that has happened with regard to criminal law.”

Fisher’s connection with the Connecticut Innocence Project facilitated Scheck’s invitation to speak at Commencement. As office Managing Partner of the Hartford office of McCarter & English, Fisher agreed to allow the Connecticut Innocence Project, who previously had no office space, to work out of an empty corner suite within his firm’s space. Through that connection, Fisher offered the Project pro bono assistance and helped establish the Connecticut Innocence Fund, which provides bridge loans to exonerees to help them get back on their feet. Through his connection with the Innocence Project and Innocence Fund, Fisher came to know Scheck.

Fisher also said that he hopes that three of the exonerees freed by the Connecticut Innocence Project will also be in attendance at Commencement, which will take place on Sunday, May 18.

In addition to his work on the Innocence Project, Scheck has engaged in extensive litigation in many significant civil rights and criminal defense cases. He has also published extensively, including co-authoring a book entitled Actual Innocence: When Justice Goes Wrong and How to Make it Right. Scheck received his undergraduate degree from Yale University in 1974 and his law degree from Boalt Hall School of Law at the University of California at Berkeley.