Northern California Innocence Project begins 100-mile march in Berkeley

Thao Nguyen/Staff

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The Northern California Innocence Project, or NCIP, an advocacy group for wrongfully incarcerated individuals, held a rally Sunday on the Mario Savio Steps of Sproul Hall as a commencement for its march.

The rally had 19 people in attendance, including group members, exonerees and community members connected to the incarceration cases and those interested in the criminal justice system.

This day marks the first of the last 100 days of Gov. Jerry Brown’s term in office, according to Jeremy Stock, senior staff attorney fellow of the larger California Innocence Project network. Justin Brooks, director of CIP, said he will march 100 miles from UC Berkeley to the state capitol in Sacramento.

“I will be exercising my free speech. I will be getting the governor’s attention,” Brooks said. “For five years I’ve been tweeting him every day.”

Brooks will walk over the next seven days and will hold speaking engagements throughout the week to raise awareness of wrongful convictions.

The “California 12” are CIP clients who have remained incarcerated despite efforts by their attorneys, Stock said. According to the CIP’s change.org petition to Brown, many of the inmates have strong evidence of innocence and some have been found innocent by a judge.

“There’s strong evidence of innocence,” attorney Meghan Fletcher said. “We’re asking Jerry Brown to support us.”

At the rally, exonerees and members of the community explained their stories with the criminal justice system, along with how they became involved with the CIP.

“I know what it’s like to sit in prison, calling innocence, innocence,” exoneree Joe Diaz said. “You cannot be angry for the rest of your life. I’m going to advocate for the wrongfully convicted.”

Community member Rebecca Woodruff recalled the case of Kiera Newsome, who was arrested on suspicion of murder at the age of 17. As a witness and Newsome’s high school teacher, Woodruff said she testified in court on Newsome’s behalf.

The court convicted Newsome of first-degree murder in 2003, according to the CIP website.

Many members in attendance said they wanted this march and future events to serve as a method to educate the community on wrongful convictions and raise awareness of the issues in the criminal justice system.

The CIP was founded in 1999 at California Western School of Law in San Diego. CIP staff and supporters began the Innocence March in 2013. This was a 712-mile walk from the CIP headquarters in San Diego to the capitol building in Sacramento, according to the CIP website.

“I know, as a victim of the system, we need change,” Diaz said. “Many more need assistance. That’s why I support the cause in hopes our governor and the legislative will listen.”

Contact Thao Nguyen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @tnguyen_dc.