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Oklahoma Innocence Project speaks about wrongful convictions

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Executive Director of the Oklahoma Innocence Project Vicki Behanna speaks with exoneree De'Marchoe Carpenter during the Wrongfully Convicted & Exonerated speech held at OSU in Murray Hall on February 20, 2020, in Stillwater.

De’Marchoe Carpenter and Vicki Behenna spoke at Oklahoma State University about wrongful conviction and exoneration on Thursday night at Murray 035.

Carpenter spent 22 years of his life in prison for a murder he didn’t commit. Since being exonerated of his sentence on May 9, 2016, he has dedicated much of his time speaking about wrongful convictions and spreading awareness about the issue.

According to Vicki Behenna, the executive director of the Oklahoma Innocence Project, there have been 36 wrongfully convicted Oklahomans who have been officially exonerated since 1993.

The Oklahoma Innocence Project is an organization dedicated to finding and resolving wrongful conviction cases in the state and currently has more than 800 cases in the queue for review.

Kaitlyn Barnett, an English major at OSU, organized the speaking event after interviewing Carpenter.

“I talked to my professor, and we agreed that his story deserved more than just an interview,” Barnett said. “That’s when he challenged me with the idea to host the event and bring awareness to campus.”

Carpenter was incarcerated along with his friend Malcolm Scott in 1994 for a murder committed by another man named Michael Wilson. Wilson was later convicted of another crime he committed a few years later. After two decades, Wilson confessed to the murder as a final confession before he faced his death penalty.

In the meantime, Carpenter said to the audience that, while he was in prison, he wrote letters to celebrities, talk-show hosts and lawyers. His story eventually reached Vicki Behenna, an attorney in Oklahoma. Once she saw that his trial had no forensic evidence or proof against Carpenter, she agreed to help.

“There’s a disparity between the representation that someone gets who can afford to pay for lawyers and investigators and those who have to rely on public defenders,” Behenna said. “When [public defenders] have 300 cases to review, it gets kind of hard to do everything you need to do in a case.”

While Carpenter was in prison, he never gave up on his hope of leaving prison and always kept writing letters and found hobbies to keep his mind going.

“There were times when it was hard,” Carpenter said. “But I kept my faith in God, and it all worked out.”

De’Marchoe Carpenter was eventually exonerated after spending 22 years in prison and received a payment of $175,000. He said the money doesn’t make up for the time he lost with loved ones.

When asked by an audience member how a poor college student could help out the organization, Behenna said students can volunteer at the Oklahoma Innocence Project. Law students often volunteer to read cases, but other students can vote at elections.

“You all are the next generation, and you all are the ones that could change the whole attitude that we have,” Behenna said. “Use your voice as young people to make sure that justice prevails.”