October 19, 2015

Beyond the Idea Accelerator with Rita Radostitz: “ Justice for the Exonerated”

As the grand finale to NTEN’s Leading Change Summit, a covey of 15LCS attendees pitched and developed changemaking projects during the Idea Accelerator.

The Summit may have ended, but many of these projects are just getting started. Today, we want to introduce you to “Justice for the Exonerated,” an idea pitched by Rita Radostitz.

What is your big idea?
To embark on a systematic and systemic project to hold prosecutors accountable for misconduct, particularly in cases where their misconduct led to a wrongful conviction.

How did the idea get started?
I spent much of my career as a public defender, and it always troubled me that prosecutors are routinely not held accountable, even when they ignore the law and their ethics and commit misconduct, which leads to an innocent person being wrongfully convicted.

Specifically, I read about Michael Morton, a man in Texas who was wrongfully convicted of killing his beloved wife. The prosecutor hid exculpatory evidence and fought against it being tested for DNA; when the evidence was finally tested, it revealed that Mr. Morton was not the killer and that the real killer had also killed another woman in an eerily similar crime two years after Mrs. Morton was killed. The prosecutor in that case also was the prosecutor on a case where I represented a man, Henry Lee Lucas, who was wrongfully convicted of murder. Evidence of his innocence of the crime (for which he’d been sentenced to death) led to him being granted clemency by then Governor George W. Bush.

This situation prompted my desire to work towards more accountability for unethical prosecutors.

How did the idea evolve during the Idea Accelerator?
When I first thought about the idea, I didn’t specifically think about how to use technology to enhance the project. However, after suggestions from other participants (and a couple of the trainers) I realized that by pulling together the three (or four) databases that I know exist documenting wrongful convictions, I could map the data and use the mapping idea to make the information more widely accessible.

Who could use this?
Lots of different people—journalists writing about criminal justice, wrongful convictions, and official misconduct; other prosecutors who want to hold their problematic peers accountable; and the general public, who want to promote justice and reduce wrongful convictions.

What does this project need?
Primarily funding. I also will need technical assistance combining the data and using it to build a map or other publication of the data that is accessible to all who would want to use it.

What’s next for this project?
I am proposing it as a Soros Justice Fellowship project. I will submit my application later this month and will learn whether I was awarded a fellowship sometime early next year. If I don’t get the Fellowship, I will seek other funding sources.

 

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Rita Radostitz