New Erie County DA interested in bringing "Innocence Project" to office

Jan 2, 2017

After taking his oath to become the new Erie County District Attorney, John Flynn spoke of more emphasis on compassion by his office. This includes a desire to bring to downtown Buffalo what is known as the Innocence Project, which works to identify and exonerate individuals wrongly convicted of a crime.

The Innocence Project was co-founded by attorney Barry Scheck, who is best known for his role as the forensics expert on O.J. Simpson's legal team. The program utilizes DNA evidence and has, according to its website, helped exonerate more than 180 individuals, some of whom were serving prison sentences for as many as 30 years before being cleared of crimes they did not commit.

Attorney Barry Scheck, right, walks out of a Texas courtroom in 2012 with his client, Rickey Dale Wyatt, whose rape conviction was overturned. Wyatt had served 31 years in prison but new DNA testing cleared him of the 1980 crime for which he was accused and convicted.

"What happens essentially is that individuals who feel they were wrongly accused petition to certain Innocence Projects around the country, depending geographically," said local attorney Terry Connors, who recently introduced Scheck to John Flynn. "Then they investigate it, to determine if the case has value and merit. Then they meet with prosecutors, try to explain in an impartial way why justice was not done in that case."

Connors says he introduced Scheck to Flynn because he felt it would be a good connection.

Flynn agreed. He referred to the case of Brian Franklin, a Town of Tonawanda native, who was recently freed from a Texas prison after serving 21 years for a rape he did not commit. 

"We need that here to ensure integrity in our criminal justice system," Flynn said. "If people are in jail who don't belong in jail, who didn't commit the crime, that shows a lack of integrity on all of us. We need to fix that."

A similar project is already underway at the University at Buffalo. It gives Flynn immediately available resources to launch the project within his office. 

"But it's still tough because you have to overcome years and years of abuse or wrongful conduct," Connors said.