NCCAN - National Capital Crime Assistance Network

Larry Smith

Larry Darnell Smith was convicted for murder in 1994 at age 18. February 4, 2021, Judge Shannon Walker dismissed all charges and he was released after spending most of his adult life in prison. He spent almost 27 years in prison, and is now 45 years old. His long time attorney (mostly pro bono), Mary Owens, stuck with him to the very end. NCCAN director, Claudia Whitman, worked with Attorney Owens and with Larry over the last 7 years to uncover new evidence and to move the case forward. Read Detroit Free Press article here.

Charles Wakefield with Claudia after his release from prisonOur Mandate

Our work consists of providing support to innocent people who have been unjustly imprisoned and their families. We also have fundraising initiatives to raise money for specific projects, such as retaining an attorney for a prisoner who is ready to take their case back into court.

You May Ask, "Aren't all people in prison guilty?"

The answer to this question is no. There are many avenues by which an innocent person can find him/her self in prison for the long term. These include unreliable eyewitness testimony, police corruption, and the misuse of prison informants. Statistics show that as many as 10% of the prison population may be innocent. Since the advent of DNA evidence, there have been 263 DNA exoneration, and the number continues to grow.

A One-Woman Innocence Movement - Claudia Whitman

One of the exonerees cleared this fall by the Wayne County Conviction Integrity Unit - Darrell Siggers - was a client of Claudia Whitman - a one woman innocence movement. Claudia, an artist based in Colorado, had already been a full-time volunteer for Equal Justice USA for many years when, in 2000, she authored a report for them entitled Reasonable Doubts: Is the US Executing Innocent People? The report focused the cases of 16 people who had been executed despite compelling innocence claims. Her report garnered quite a bit of attention, which prompted Jeffrey Deskovic to ask for her help in his case. After three years, she had collected enough information to convince the New York State Defender’s Association to take a new look at his case. Ultimately, with the help of the Innocence Project, Deskovic was exonerated in 2006 of a murder he’d falsely confessed to at the age of 16.

Since Deskovic’s exoneration, Claudia has helped dozens of incarcerated folks directly. “Once your name gets out there, you get letters asking for help almost every day,” she says. Four more of her “clients” – used loosely, since Claudia accepts no compensation – were exonerated in Michigan; two of whom she brought to the attention of the Michigan Innocence Clinic after doing her own work on the case (Desmond Ricks, Marwin McHenry), one of whom she hired a lawyer for (Bernard Young), and one who was handled by the newly formed Conviction Integrity Unit of Wayne County (Darrell Siggers).

Claudia does more than help the innocent in prison. She has also contributed much to the Registry, including helping Maurice and Ken piece together the chronology of the cases she worked on, and pointing us to other cases that are working their way through the innocence pipeline. She is dedicated to righting wrongs and fighting injustices, and is an excellent example of a reality in innocence work: no exoneration happens in a vacuum. It usually takes a village, but sometimes that village only has one resident, and that is Claudia.

Taken from Fall at the Registry, November 2018

darrell siggers hugs attorney mike waldo

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