BRANDON Olebar greeted 2014 as a free man for the first time in 10 years because of the skills and tenacity of the Innocence Project Northwest at the University of Washington School of Law.
Olebar was wrongly convicted and sent to prison for a robbery and burglary he did not commit. He was the victim of flawed identification procedures and faulty eyewitness testimony.
Compelling new evidence that would eventually free Olebar was assembled by two law students, Nikki Carsley and Kathleen Klineall. They worked with the project’s attorney Fernanda Torres.
All of the reviews of court documents, police reports and their own Innocence Project investigations were presented to Mark Larson, the chief criminal deputy prosecutor to King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg.
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Both Larson and Satterberg draw high praise from the project’s staff attorneys for the open minds they brought to the review, the swift course of their investigations, and subsequent filing of court material en route to Olebar’s release in late December.
The UW’s clinical law program secured Olebar’s freedom, and because of legislation drafted by the project’s policy director Lara Zarowsky, he can seek compensation for his wrongful conviction, and the time taken from him.
Zarowsky drafted the legislation in 2011, and it was promoted in Olympia by policy advocates. The compensation measure, which was already law in a majority of states, ran smack into Great Recession state-budget realities.
The Innocence Project’s legislative advocates persisted for two more legislative sessions until what became House Bill 1341 was passed last spring and became effective in July.
Zarowsky said the law had a sympathetic audience from the start, and eventually passed with broad bipartisan support.
The work of the project, and the Legislature’s process to review wrongful convictions and make compensation available, represents genuine respect for the pursuit of justice.
Political and legal values that acknowledge grievous errors, and literally pay for mistakes, combine to give an innocent man a measure of his life back.
UW’s Innocence Project Northwest is an extraordinary asset for Washington, and the rule of law in our democracy.
Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Lance Dickie, Jonathan Martin, Thanh Tan, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).