Hamline News

IPMN Case Leads to Release of Innocent Man


Hamline Innocence Clinic Provides Crucial Support for the 10-year effort

Sherman Townsend was imprisoned for more than ten years for a crime he did not commit. Years ago he convinced lawyers, professors and law students working with the Innocence Project of Minnesota of his innocence, but they could not find a way to prove it. Earlier this year the true perpetrator contacted them admitting his guilt and giving a candid, detailed and chilling account of what transpired the night that changed Mr. Townsend's life. On October 2, 2007 Sherman Townsend walked out of prison a free man.

Julie A. Jonas, Innocence Project staff attorney, prepared the court pleadings with assistance from Michael Davis, adjunct clinical faculty member. The weekday Innocence Clinic at Hamline. worked on this file, including students in the current clinic. Sherman's case was a frequent topic of discussion during class time.

Two students deserve special credit: Jessica McKinney, and Tonya Dugree (formerly Tonya Dugree-Pearson). Jessica and Tonya met with Sherman at least twice at the prison, interviewed possible new witnesses, tracked down promising leads, located and interviewed trial counsel to get his insights on the case, examined the court record and court exhibits, and never doubted his innocence.

"Over the years, I've used a variation of Sherman's case as a teaching exercise. The case presents many of the common causes of wrongful convictions: mistaken identification, false accusations, poor police work, statements of an accused that are misconstrued as an indirect confession, and the emergence of new forensic techniques by which to prove actual innocence," Davis said.

JDMFA-banner "That David Jones - the only witness who claimed that Sherman committed the crime - turned out to be the person who actually committed the crime is a real eye opener. Students and I always believed that his identification of Sherman was both mistaken and false; he was not, however, high on our list of suspects. Jones' detailed account of how he broke into the house is a stark reminder that all of us need to ask, constantly, whether all possibilities are being considered, and whether anything is being overlooked," Davis added.

Many students, faculty and staff will be celebrating the outcome at the upcoming Annual Innocence Ball on Saturday, November 3. The Ball will feature best-selling author and attorney Scott Turow. A cocktail party and silent auction will precede the ball from 6:30 p.m. until 8:00 p.m. Hamline University School of Law is sponsoring the party as part of the introduction of the new JD/MFA in creative writing joint degree program at Hamline University (http://law.hamline.edu/hamline-university-jd-mfa-program.html). The dinner, program, live auction and dancing will begin at 8 p.m. (until midnight). The event will be held at the Marriott City Center in Minneapolis. Tickets range from $50 - $100; sponsorships also are available. Contact Erica Applebaum at 541-523-3152.

Established in 2002, Innocence Project of Minnesota (IPMN) is a private, volunteer based, non-profit organization that provides pro bono investigative and legal assistance to prisoners trying to prove their innocence. IPMN investigates potential claims of wrongful conviction from prisoners convicted of crimes in Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota. In affiliation with Hamline University, IPMN uses the resources of Hamline University's College of Liberal Arts and the School of Law, including office space, administrative support, forensic s science experts, faculty, and students. IPMN's first course offering, "Wrongful Convictions: Causes and Remedies" began at Hamline University. The first Minnesota Innocence Clinic was also established at Hamline.