Notre Dame students work to help convicted people who claim they're innocent
Most of us trust our justice system.
People are innocent until proven guilty, but what happens if you're proven guilty and you insist you're innocent?
A group of Notre Dame law students are working to figure that out.
They're involved in an exoneration project. They work on real-life cases where the person who was convicted claims they're innocent.
They're not doing it for an "A." They're doing it to change lives.
Tucked in the corner of Notre Dame's School of Law, you'll find these students, working for those they believe shouldn't be here.
"Most people think it could never happen and the reality is it happens and it happens all too often,” said Professor Jimmy Gurule, ND Law.
The project started when students heard from Keith Cooper last spring.
Cooper was wrongfully convicted of armed robbery and attempted murder in Elkhart. He was pardoned by the governor, but not before he spent almost 10 years behind bars.
"It inspired the students. They said well look we can be involved in a case and have the same result, have an innocent man free based on their reference,” said Gurule.
They're working on three cases from our area, three verdicts they believe are wrong.
"It really helps pull you out of the ivory tower and put you to the public service that lawyers should be providing,” said Erika Gustin, Exoneration Project law student.
They work under the attorney who helped Cooper and Gurule who oversees it all.
"They go to the prison and they interview their client. They discuss with their client the case, the facts, and what happened,” said Gurule.
Sometimes even leaving the state to track down witnesses.
Gustin says it reminds her why she's studying law.
"Our volunteers right now are driven by that good will. That desire to help their clients,” said Gustin.
Volunteering their time because they believe their clients have already spent too much behind bars.
"To be able to say I played some role, I played some part in causing this person who is wrongfully convicted to be freed,” said Gurule.
“I can't imagine an experience that would be more rewarding or fulfilling than that,” said Gurule.
It's important to remember that these students are just volunteers. They do it all on top of their heavy class load. That's why they're working to secure funding to make the group an actual clinic that they can get credit for and dedicate even more time to these cases.