Douglas Prade understands exactly how he arrived at his freedom. The former Akron police captain cited the work of the Ohio Innocence Project, the effort of attorneys and law students based at the University of Cincinnati. Founded in 2003, the project performs the necessary yet often unpopular work of challenging the conclusions of prosecutors and others in law enforcement.
The Innocence Project chooses its cases carefully, pursuing two dozen or so in the state, gaining exonerations in roughly half so far, its credibility thus strong. Count Clarence Elkins among those who have regained their freedom with the help of the project. The driving spirit stems from an understanding that the criminal justice system makes mistakes, requiring a check and balance, a player devoted to repairing injustice.
Yet the Innocence Project wasn’t alone in making a difference. Prade noted the reporting of the Columbus Dispatch. In 2008, the newspaper exposed deep flaws in the state’s evidence-retention and DNA testing systems. The paper brought attention to 30 cases that warranted new DNA testing. The Prade case was one, his the fifth in the Dispatch series that has resulted in an exoneration and a release from prison.
The reporting triggered action at the Statehouse, where lawmakers made improvements to the system, removing obstacles to credible requests for DNA testing, adding safeguards against the state making the grievous error of imprisoning or executing the wrong man or woman.
Many prosecutors have grumbled about such changes. True enough, neither side is immune to mistakes. What is evident in the main is that the criminal justice system has benefited from these actions. It has become stronger as it has been pushed to face its shortcomings.