WMU-Cooley Law School Innocence Project celebrates 20 years

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LANSING– On May 6, the WMU-Cooley Law School Innocence Project celebrated 20 years of screening legal cases, which has led to the exoneration of eight individuals, during a gala celebration and fundraiser at the Country Club of Lansing. 

The gala’s keynote speaker was Anthony Ray Hinton, wrongly convicted of the 1985 murders of two restaurant managers in Birmingham, Ala. 

Hinton, who was the 152nd person exonerated from death row, spoke about injustices found in our criminal justice system.

“I have to ask you, do we truly have justice when the taxpayer pays for innocent men to be in prison,” said Hinton. “No innocent man or woman should go to prison for a crime they did not commit.”

Hinton serves as community educator for the Equal Justice Initiative, where he is an advocate for abolition of the death penalty.

As was one of the longest-serving death row prisoners in Alabama and the longest-serving condemned prisoner to be free, Hinton said, “I come here today to tell you that the system is broken. I come here to tell you that we all need to stand up. We must join hands and fight.”

During the celebration, Novi-based attorney Wolfgang Mueller, founder of the Mueller Law Firm, donated $250,000 to the WMU-Cooley Innocence Project.

“This gift from Mr. Wolfgang Mueller and the Mueller Law Firm demonstrates an unprecedented level of support and commitment to the work of the WMU-Cooley Innocence Project,” said WMU-Cooley President James McGrath. “It is guaranteed to have a substantial effect on the lives of many innocent men and women wrongfully serving time in prison. We are incredibly grateful for Mr. Mueller’s generosity and dedication to this life-changing work.”

Mueller has been a speaker at seminars for the American Association for Justice (AAJ) and the Michigan Association for Justice (MAJ). He is a past member of the MAJ’s executive board and is a member of the Council for the State Bar of Michigan’s Negligence Section. Mueller often speaks at law schools on the issue of police misconduct. 

“The work WMU-Cooley’s Innocence Project provides is some of the most important work any organization does,” said Mueller. “Dying in prison as an innocent person is possibly the single-worst travesty of the American criminal justice system. I applaud the work that is being done right here in our state by WMU-Cooley.”

WMU-Cooley’s Innocent Project Director Tracey Brame said, “Mr. Mueller’s gracious donation is an incredible gift to the Innocence Project. As a longtime supporter of our program, his donation will allow us to provide the resources necessary to continue our important work in very concrete ways.”

Former WMU-Cooley Innocence Project Director Marla Mitchell-Cichon met Mueller in 2012 when she was working on an Oakland County case.

“Since I met Wolf, he has been an amazing supporter and cheerleader,” said Mitchell-Cichon. “He understands how difficult it is to free an innocent person and he has helped us in big and small ways.”

The WMU-Cooley Law School Innocence Project is the only post-conviction DNA innocence organization in the state. Since its inception, the office has screened over 6,000 cases and is responsible for the exoneration of eight individuals: Kenneth Wyniemko (2003), Nathaniel Hatchett (2008), Donya Davis (2014), LeDura Watkins (2017), Kenneth Nixon (2021), Gilbert Poole (2021), Corey Quentin McCall (2021) and George DeJesus (2022). The project is staffed by WMU-Cooley Law School students, who work under the supervision of WMU-Cooley Innocence Project attorneys. Those interested in donating and supporting the work of the WMU-Cooley Innocence Project can do so at cooley.edu/academics/experiential-learning/innocence-project.;


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