Two wrongfully convicted inmates, Robert McClendon and Roger Dean Gillepsie, spoke Tuesday at a panel on their experience with the Ohio Innocence Project (OIP), the judicial system and the struggles of being innocent while incarcerated.
The Ohio Innocence Project, which is run by the University of Cincinnati College of Law, reviews cases of falsely-accused individuals and helps them appeal their cases by testing DNA, which is a more accurate approach for finding a perpetrator. In the case of McClendon, who was charged with rape and kidnapping, DNA testing was not performed.
Gillepsie, who was sentenced for alleged rape, kidnapping and aggravated robbery, and McClendon were both freed by the Ohio Innocence Project and its push for DNA testing.
While incarcerated, Gillepsie said he was able to wake up every morning with the help of artwork and music. McClendon said he kept going because of his faith and belief in himself.
“It don’t make you a prisoner, though, if you go to prison. That depends on you,” McClendon said.
The speakers also explained how cases are selected by the OIP.
The first step is filling out a 26-page application. According to Gillepsie, the lengthy application usually deters the guilty from applying. Additionally, the OIP only takes on cases where the prosecuted pleaded not guilty before being charged. The next step is asking whether a DNA test was conducted during the trial. Currently, the OIP has limited finances for DNA testing, but it is looking into hiring a private investigator as part of the team.
After being proven innocent, the wrongfully convicted individuals are able to apply for compensation in Ohio. However, not all states have compensation statutes and it can be difficult to acquire.
“The federal government, the District of Columbia, and 32 states have compensation statutes of some form,” Innocence Project said on its website.
According to the Ohio Court of Claims, to receive compensation in Ohio, an individual must go through a two-step process of appearing in a court of common pleas and filing a civil claim for monetary damages. The individual, once they are determined wrongfully imprisoned by the Court of Claims, is then entitled to a certain sum of money.
The entitled sum comes from any courts or fines accumulated during the court proceedings and any loss of income from being unemployed while incarcerated. The entitled money also includes any cost debts from the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction and about $52,625, “prorated for partial years,” for each year of imprisonment.
Nonetheless, Gillepsie said no amount of money could bring back the time he lost while in prison. Even now, after being declared innocent in 2008 and 2011, McClendon and Gillepsie are still adjusting to life outside their cells.
McClendon said joining the OIP gave him another family and a chance to help others in the same situation that he was in.
“I have been very fortunate, and was asked to be on the board of the Ohio Innocence Project,” Gillepsie said. “Probably nothing in my life could top that, of being able to be a part of the decision making of the organization that saved my life.”