Samantha Enescu (3L), Anna Dellapa (2L), Sean Hood (2L), Becky Esquenazi (2L), Dean Marni Lennon, Mackenzie Garrity (2L), John Smerznak (2L), Gabrielle Engle (2L), Jaqueline Martinelli (3L)
The Miami Law Innocence Clinic was proud to co-host a significant innocence celebration along with Brian and Lisa Tannebaum and the Innocence Project of Florida. The Exoneration Celebration held on September 28, 2019, at the University of Miami Newman Alumni Center, honored those the exonerated and those who have dedicated their lives to the cause of overturning wrongful convictions. The faculty, staff, and students of Miami Law Innocence Clinic attended the celebration.
“I wanted the whole clinic to be at this unique event,” said clinic director, Craig Trocino. “It was important to me to have the students see what the results of the work they undertook could be.” Several Florida exonerees attended the event, including Luis Diaz, who spent 25 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. Second-year clinic student John Smerznak said that “having the opportunity to meet Florida exonerees impressed on everyone the reality of wrongful convictions in America.”
Meeting and interacting with exonerees “helped give the day-to-day work we do in the innocence clinic perspective and purpose,” said fellow 2L clinic student, Mackenzie Garrity.
Hearing the exonerees’ stories and their struggles impacted everyone in attendance. “Their stories are shocking and force us all to become more critical of our justice system and remind us of the importance of taking action towards change," said 2L Gabrielle Engle.
In addition to the exonerees, the event was attended by luminaries of the legal profession including Anthony Varona, dean of the University of Miami School of Law; Barry Scheck, co-founder of the Innocence Project; Justice Gerald Kogan, former chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court; and Michelle Suskauer, former president of the Florida Bar. Scheck received the Talbot “Sandy” D’Almeberte Commitment to Justice Award.
Seeing the results of the work that goes into an innocence case “enabled me to understand its significance fully on a more personal level,” said 2L clinic student Anna Dellapa.
Celebrating the exonerated and honoring those who worked to achieve freedom for the wrongfully convicted was “extremely empowering for my work in the innocence clinic and has reminded me of the critical need for criminal justice reform,” said 2L Becky Esquenazi.
“This work is extraordinarily difficult, and having the students see its fruits, makes it all worth it," Trocino said, summing up the experience.