Innocence Project Seminar

February 28, 2017

The collateral damages caused by wrongful convictions will be address on Friday, March 3, 2017, by Penny Beerntsen and Katie Monroe during the American Constitution Society’s Innocence Project. The event will be at noon in JRCB 205. Beerntsen is a crime survivor from a case that resulted in a wrongful conviction, and Monroe is the daughter of an exoneree.

DNA evidence has led to the undoing of hundreds of wrongful convictions across the country. These wrongful convictions have caused harm to the innocent who lost years of freedom while wrongly imprisoned and then faced numerous obstacles to rebuilding their lives after coming home. Those same wrongful convictions have also caused pain to the victims of the original crimes who were devastated upon discovering that the real perpetrator was never caught. The victims were often blamed publicly for having played a role in the conviction.

Katie Monroe’s mother was wrongfully convicted of a crime she did not commit. Monroe spearheaded an 11-year legal battle to free her mother, which she won. Since then, Monroe has worked in several innocence organizations including Healing Justice, the Innocence Project, and the Rocky Mountain Innocence Center.

Beerntsen’s interest in criminal justice began after she was sexually assaulted and almost murdered in July 1985, while jogging on a Lake Michigan beach in Wisconsin. As a result of a flawed identification process, she selected Steven Avery’s photo from a line-up. He was convicted and sentenced to 32 years in prison. Eighteen years later Avery was exonerated by DNA evidence and released. Beerntsen was devastated to learn that Avery was innocent and that the actual perpetrator, Gregory Allen, committed additional sexual assaults and remained free until 1995. In collaboration with various innocence projects, Beerntsen has traveled around the country speaking about the need for reform in eyewitness identification procedures.

Beerntsen is a retired business woman, active in the restorative justice movement since the early 1990s, when she helped establish the Sexual Assault Resource Center in her hometown of Manitowoc, Wisconsin. She advocates for both victim and offender rights and has facilitated numerous victim/offender dialogues, including those involving crimes of severe violence. Beerntsen served on Wisconsin’s Crime Victims Rights Board from 1999-2004. She was a member of the Wisconsin Criminal Justice Study Commission from 2004-2008. While residing in the Chicago area from 2004-2014, Beerntsen volunteered at Northwestern University’s Center on Wrongful Convictions. She was a member of the Advisory Board of the Wisconsin Innocence Project from 2013-2016 and is currently involved with the Healing Justice Project.

Please join us for this discussion and an important perspective on criminal justice failures that lead to wrongful convictions.