MAIP Luncheon 2014 Recap
When Ms. Thompson learned that she had been mistaken when she identified Ronald Cotton as her rapist and that he had spent 11 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, she apologized to him and became a tireless advocate for policy reforms that would help prevent wrongful convictions. Because of this work, she was the recipient of this year’s Champion of Justice Award and the keynote speaker at the event. Ms. Thompson’s speech emphasized the importance of reforming eyewitness identification procedures in order to minimize human errors like the mistake that she made.
The award was presented to Ms. Thompson by MAIP exoneree Thomas Haynesworth and Janet Burke, who mistakenly identified Haynesworth as her rapist 27 years ago. Ms. Thompson began informally counseling Ms. Burke shortly after Ms. Burke learned of her mistake, and the two women met in-person for the first time onstage. Ms. Burke and Mr. Haynesworth met each other a few weeks before the event, where he accepted her apology; he emphasized for the audience that the system had failed all of them and that wrongful convictions also have a significant impact on victims. Their presentation was so moving that it was featured on the front page of the Sunday Richmond Times-Dispatch shortly after the event.
MAIP also honored with its Defender of Innocence Award several lawyers and law firms whose work co-counseling with MAIP helped lead to a stunningly successful year. Jon Talotta, Adam Aft, Erica Knievel-Songer and Marques Richardson at Hogan Lovells were honored for their representation of Johnathan Montgomery, who served five years in prison for a sexual assault that never occurred; Jim Bensfield and Jonathan Kossak at Miller & Chevalier were honored for their representation of Jerry Jenkins, who served eight years in prison for a rape he did not commit; and Roger Yoerges, Jessica Rothschild and Brigid Kelly at Steptoe & Johnson were honored for their representation of Sabein Burgess, who spent 19 years in prison for a murder he did not commit. None of these clients would have been freed without the incredible pro bono work of the legal teams from Hogan, Miller & Chevalier, and Steptoe.
To cap an impassioned luncheon, MAIP Executive Director Shawn Armbrust, flanked by seven of MAIP’s recent exonerees, introduced Kevin Martin, who is scheduled to appear in court on July 21st to receive his Writ of Actual Innocence after spending 26 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. Martin will be MAIP’s second exoneration of 2014 and sixth exoneration in sixteen months.
Congratulations to the all of the award winners, and thank you to all of our supporters who made this event possible. We hope you will join us again in 2015!