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MT Innocence Project Opens Its Doors

November 18, 2008

Missoula, MT – The Montana Innocence Project has set up shop and is already examining about 15 cases of possible wrongful conviction -- cases such as those of three Montanans, all of whom were exonerated by DNA evidence through national investigations.

Director Jessie McQuillan says they're joining a national cause that has exonerated more than 200 people, including 17 who had been on Death Row. While many of the cases are successful as a result of DNA evidence, McQuillan says they'll look at more than that in Montana.

"We're willing to consider cases where DNA evidence is simply not available, because in most cases, there is not DNA evidence."

McQuillan says she's discovered some Montanans find it hard to believe that anyone could be wrongfully convicted, citing the checks and balances of the criminal justice system. However, she explains, some cases still slip through. At times, improvements in technology end up shining new light on them. In other cases, she says, sloppy crime lab work sends the wrong person to prison, as in Montana's most famous case.

"Jimmy Ray Bromgard was exonerated in 2002 after serving 15 years for a rape he didn't commit."

McQuillan notes that, for all three recent cases in which Montanans were exonerated, they had been sent to jail largely based on testimony from the same forensic scientist, a man whose testimony has since been discredited in dozens of cases and could be linked to other wrongful convictions.

Those seeking assistance from the Montana Innocence Project need to make a written request, including details about the case and evidence that could establish innocence. Only certain felony cases will be considered.

Deborah Smith/Deb Courson, Public News Service - MT