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CIP Client Joann Parks Released After 29 Years of Wrongful Imprisonment

JoAnn Parks, left, and attorney Raquel Cohen ‘09 celebrate Parks’ release from prison

California Innocence Project (CIP) client JoAnn Parks has been released from prison after 29 years of wrongful incarceration.

Parks was arrested and convicted in the tragic accidental fire that resulted in the death of her children. At the time, the government alleged Parks started the fire. CIP, using modern fire science, developed a compelling case that the fire was the accidental result of faulty wiring.

“Not only is JoAnn innocent, but she is a wonderful person with so much to give back to her community,” said Raquel Cohen ‘09, CIP Attorney who was the primary lawyer on the case in both litigation and the request for clemency.

“I cannot be more excited to watch her blossom in her new life. We are all forever grateful to Gov. Newsom and the parole board for seeing her potential and making this day possible. I will continue to fight to get her conviction overturned, but now I will get to do it while she is enjoying her freedom,” continued Cohen.

CIP’s Associate Director Alex Simpson co-counseled all of Parks’ court hearings.

CIP has advocated for Parks’ release for well over a decade. In 2013, CIP Director Justin Brooks and CIP staff attorneys Alissa Bjerkhoel ‘08, and Mike Semanchik ‘10, walked 712 miles from San Diego to Sacramento to present Parks’ clemency petition (along with 11 others) to Gov. Jerry Brown. He failed to act on the petition.

Last year, Gov. Gavin Newsom granted Parks’ clemency petition and commuted her Life Without Parole sentence to make her instantly eligible for parole. Parks is the 9th of the California 12 to be released.

“I am thrilled JoAnn Parks is finally free,” said Brooks, who is also a Professor of Law at California Western School of Law. “Nothing could be worse than losing your children and then being wrongfully convicted of their murder. As we learn more about the science of fires, hopefully these kinds of wrongful convictions will no longer occur.”

Parks is set to parole to San Diego where she will be gainfully employed as she re-acclimates to society.

Parks was the subject of a 2019 book written by Pulitzer Prize winner Ed Humes, entitled, “Burned: A Story of Murder and the Crime That Wasn’t.”

Parks is the 35th innocent client to be released by the California Innocence Project.

About the California Innocence Project
The California Innocence Project is a California Western School of Law clinical program dedicated to the release of wrongfully convicted inmates and providing an outstanding educational experience for students enrolled in the clinic. The California Innocence Project receives approximately 1,500 claims from inmates each year and has freed 35 wrongfully convicted clients since its inception. Read more at: