California Western’s Prof. Justin Brooks was recently interviewed in two podcasts about his work with the California Innocence Project.
In the first podcast, Prof. Brooks tells Pros & Cons hosts, Bethany and Adriana about how a meeting with a young Puerto Rican woman on Death Row in Chicago who had been sentenced to death on a plea bargain, was the birth of the California Innocence Project in 1999.
“That case inspired me,” recalls Prof. Brooks. “I can remember sitting in my car on a freezing cold Chicago night and I just thought this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. I realized that (a), there are innocent people in prison who got horrendous process and (b), working with my students, I realized the only way to teach them to be good lawyers was to work on real cases.”
Prof. Brooks then talked about Brian Banks, the former American football linebacker who had his conviction overturned in 2012 after spending five years in jail having been falsely accused of rape. A movie based on Banks' story, co-executive produced by Banks himself and Justin Brooks is scheduled for release later this year.
In conclusion, Prof Brooks spoke about the California 12—a reference to 12 separate cases that were identified six years ago as great cases for clemency.
“These are such great factual innocence cases,” says Prof. Brooks.
Having already completed one well-publicized walk for the California 12, Prof. Brooks then revealed that he was going to walk the final 100 miles from San Francisco to Sacramento to mark Gov. Brown’s last 100 days in office. He is due in Sacramento Oct. 4 where he will present petitions for clemency for the final seven individuals who are still in custody.
“If anyone deserves clemency it’s people who are innocent,” says Prof. Brooks.
Most recently, Prof. Brooks joined Luis Vargas on Jason Flom’s podcast Wrongful Conviction.
In 1999 Vargas was convicted and sentenced to 55 years to life in prison for three sexual assaults. He was accused of being the notorious “teardrop rapist,” a methodical serial rapist that terrorized women in Los Angeles.
Aided by the California Innocence Project, a Los Angeles County judge threw out Vargas' conviction in 2015 after DNA evidence exonerated him in at least one of the attacks.
Prof. Brooks says it is important that people remember that this can happen to them. You can be at work one day, and the police show up and arrest you for something that you know nothing about warns Brooks.
“You can hope for the best, but you can see through bad identification procedures, through false confessions that are obtained through people giving false information you can be convicted of a crime in the United States of America and go to prison for the rest of your life for something you didn’t do,” continues Brooks.
“This is all of our criminal justice system; we all need to take ownership of it; we are all responsible for it, so you need to get involved.”
Listen to the two podcasts here: https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/mouth-off-network-3/queens-of-crime/e/56219675