WASHINGTON ― A program in Ohio that has helped free 24 people who were imprisoned for crimes they didn’t commit has received a record-setting donation of $15 million to continue its work.
The Ohio Innocence Project at the University of Cincinnati College of Law received what they say is the largest donation to any innocence program in history from Richard “Dick” Rosenthal, a longtime benefactor in the Cincinnati region.
“This is a complete game-changer,” said Mark Godsey, the director of the Ohio Innocence Project. The gift will allow the program to operate in perpetuity and expand its work.
Rosenthal said in a statement that the Ohio Innocence Project “has a laudable mission” in seeking to free every innocent person in the state.
“I’m proud to help ensure its life-saving work continues now and forever,” Rosenthal said. “Thank you to everyone who has helped make the OIP so successful in its mission – I’m inspired daily by the students, faculty and staff who work tirelessly in the pursuit of justice.”
Rosenthal’s single gift was roughly triple the amount that the program had raised over the course of more than a decade, and several times its existing endowment, Godsey said. He added that Rosenthal and his late wife, Lois, had been “instrumental” in shaping the organization, which was founded in 2003.
One of the people that the Ohio Innocence Project helped clear is Ricky Jackson (pictured above with Rosenthal), who spent 39 years in prison after being sentenced to death row at the age of 18 for a murder he didn’t commit.
“The English language doesn’t have the words to express how I’m feeling right now,’’ Jackson said upon his 2014 release.
Godsey said there has been increased interest in programs like the Ohio Innocence Project in recent years, in part thanks to shows like “Making a Murderer” and “Serial,” which have helped depict what lawyers working on these cases have known for years.
“I think these shows have been tremendously helpful in making the public aware of the problem,” Godsey said. “To be honest with you, I’ve got many cases that are just as interesting and fascinating and crazy as ‘Making a Murderer,’ but nobody was there filming them. When I’d talked about them, the public is in disbelief, because the public is sort of in this fog that the system is nearly perfect and doesn’t need reform. But now when I talk about these cases, they understand the problem and they’re nodding along, and that is extremely helpful.”