Last October, Crystal Weimer walked out of prison, finally free after being wrongly incarcerated 11 years for a Fayette County murder she didn’t commit. Her freedom was won thanks to the work of the Pennsylvania Innocence Project.
On Tuesday, September 27, the Innocence Project held a “celebratory launch” of its Pittsburgh office, and a sold out crowd of more than 300 heard Weimer and her attorneys tell their dramatic story. The event was hosted by PNC at the new Tower at PNC Plaza. The Pittsburgh office, along with its student clinic, will be located at Duquesne University’s School of Law.
Only a handful of other states have more than one Innocence Project office in the same state, says Richard Glazer, executive director of Pennsylvania Innocence Project. They opened a Pittsburgh office for two reasons. First, Ken Gormley, former dean of the Duquesne University School of Law and now the University’s president, reached out and invited them. The second was for efficiency. “Many of our clients and witnesses are in prison in the western part of the state and it gets expensive and time-consuming to travel,” Glazer says. “This gives us an opportunity to interview and work with people from Pittsburgh instead of Philadelphia, and allows us to be easily accessible to the courts in the western part of the state.”
Who are they hoping to attract to their cause? “Anyone who believes in justice would be interested,” says Marissa Boyers Bluestine, the Innocence Project’s legal director. “It’s critically important that the criminal justice system be reformed so that people aren’t convicted for crimes they didn’t commit—and if they are, that we fairly and adequately compensate them for their suffering after release.”
Bluestine says the Innocence Project has many campaigns now for citizen involvement, including their “Right The Wrong” campaign aimed at changing a stunning disparity. “It’s outrageous that people who serve time for a crime they’ve committed get access to assistance when they’re released, including job placement, housing, and educational opportunities; [while] on the other hand, people who are innocent and wrongly incarcerated get absolutely nothing when they’re released,” she says.
When Crystal Weimer was released, “We actually had to pick her up at the side of a field where she had been dropped off, still in her prison uniform, and holding a bag of her belongings,” says Bluestine. “We feel strongly that Pennsylvania should join the majority of states that feel that people who are wrongly convicted should be compensated.” Anyone can be an activist to help change to these issues, including through social media, she adds.