"We are here and we are needed," declared author and lawyer John Grisham, referring to the Innocence Project of Minnesota and the "unfortunate reality of a broken criminal system that incarcerates people for crimes they did not commit." Grisham, whose book "The Innocent Man" was based on the real-life events of Dennis Fritz, stressed the importance of the Innocence Project as keynote speaker at the Innocence Project of Minnesota's annual fund-raising benefit on October 15. The event, which drew more than 540 guests, raised more than $80,000. One guest paid $5,000 to have the right to name a character in an upcoming Grisham novel.
Dennis Fritz, protagonist of Grisham's most recent novel, spent 12 years of his life behind bars for a wrongful murder conviction. During his sentencing, he was one vote shy of receiving the death penalty. Grisham stressed the harsh reality that Fritz could have been executed in the same year that he was instead exonerated as a result of his determination and the aid of the Innocence Project. Grisham related how touching the human capacity to forgive can be, in stark contrast to our ability to inflict great cruelty.
It is estimated that between 2 to 5 percent, and possibly as many as 10 percent, of the 2.4 million incarcerated individuals are innocent. Those that are exonerated, Grisham noted, are "thrown back out in society and expected to survive, without compensation, without an apology, and frequently, without a family or support network. Fritz was lucky; he had family, a resiliently stubborn spirit, and a desire to tell his story."
Hamline University College of Liberal Arts and Hamline University School of Law are sponsors of Innocence Project of Minnesota, which is based at Hamline University. Alumni, students, professors and staff members from Hamline support and actively participate in Innocence Project cases.