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First Exonerations for Oklahoma Innocence Project

The Oklahoma Innocence Project at Oklahoma City University School of Law watched Monday as Malcolm Scott and De’Marchoe Carpenter were released from prison after serving more than 20 years for the 1994 murder of Karen Summers. These are the first exonerations for the Project, which took this case in 2011 after receiving letters from both Scott and Carpenter.

“There are really no words to adequately describe this moment,” said Vicki Zemp Behenna, executive director of the Oklahoma Innocence Project. “Malcolm and De’Marchoe have spent more than half their lives behind bars for something they didn’t do. They have been waiting for this day; their families have been waiting for this day for 20-plus years. We are so grateful to Judge Holmes for righting this terrible wrong.”

Scott and Carpenter were convicted of Karen Summers’ murder, which occurred in September 1994. The teens were sentenced to life, despite Tulsa police finding the gun and car used in the drive-by shooting in the possession of Michael Wilson hours after the crime. On Jan. 7, 2014, just two days before his execution for another murder, Wilson confessed to the Project, and again in the execution chamber that he was actually the trigger-man and that Scott and Carpenter were not in the car with him.

At an evidentiary hearing on Jan. 29, the one living co-conspirator, Richard Harjoe, testified before Judge Holmes that he, Wilson and a third man, Billy Don Alverson, were in the car together when Wilson killed Summers and wounded two others.

Wilson and Alverson were both executed for their role in the murder of a QuikTrip store clerk in 1995. Harjoe was sentenced to life for his participation in that murder.

“We have been working to free these two men for five years,” said Christina Green, legal director at the Oklahoma Innocence Project. “They have become part of our lives and we are privileged to be part of theirs. Malcolm and De’Marchoe’s futures start today and we are ecstatic to stand by them as they walk away from the past and start their lives as free men.”

Since 2011, the Oklahoma Innocence Project legal staff and students at Oklahoma City University School of Law have been investigating this case. The Project is also grateful for the hard work of attorneys Josh Lee and Ken Sue Doerful, who volunteered their legal expertise in the pursuit of the truth for Scott and Carpenter.

“This is such a powerful experience for our law students,” said Valerie K. Couch, dean of Oklahoma City University School of Law. “They gain hands-on experience working with clients, while learning about the inner-workings of the criminal justice system. Students learn first-hand from the Project legal team and volunteer attorneys like Josh and Ken Sue. Through their experience in the Project, students unite their knowledge, skills and passion for justice in work that is real and life-changing for the wrongfully convicted like Malcolm and De’Marchoe.”

The Oklahoma Innocence Project operates entirely on private donations, and all of its legal services are offered at no charge to the client.  From initial investigation to litigation, costs on each case mount. The Project hires experts, copies court documents, hires private investigators and travels to speak with witnesses, all in support of its clients.

“We are sincerely grateful for our supporters,” said Dean Couch. “Without you, we would not be here today. Malcolm and De’Marchoe would still be in prison for a crime they did not commit. Your generous financial support and friendship over the past five years led to the freedom of these two innocent men. On behalf of the law school, the Project staff and the families of Malcolm and De’Marchoe, thank you.”

There have been 32 Oklahomans exonerated, before today the most recent was Michelle Murphy of Tulsa, who was exonerated in 2014. As of the time of this release, there have been 1,782 exonerations dating back to 1989. The main causes of wrongful conviction are eyewitness misidentification, unvalidated and improper forensic science, false confessions, informants, government misconduct and inadequate defense.

The Oklahoma Innocence Project has another case in litigation – Willard O’Neal’s brief for post-conviction relief was filed in June 2015, and the team is waiting for an evidentiary hearing to be scheduled.

To date, the Oklahoma Innocence Project has received over 1,250 requests for assistance. Aside from O’Neal’s case, which is in litigation, two are being investigated, 120 are waiting to be assigned and over 600 have been closed.