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Branstad, Reynolds announce Federal grant for wrongful conviction division

DES MOINES – Today at the Administration’s weekly press conference, Gov. Terry Branstad, Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds, and State Public Defender Adam Gregg announced that the State of Iowa was recently awarded $632,765 in federal grant money to support the work of the Wrongful Conviction Division in the Office of the State Public Defender.

The creation of the Wrongful Conviction Division was announced in October of 2015, focusing initially on reviewing cases involving microscopic hair comparison, a forensic science which has been called into question in recent years by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. In June of 2016, FBI Director James Comey sent a letter to all governors encouraging them to review such cases in their state. “We’re very proud of the fact that here in Iowa we have taken a proactive approach to tackling this issue, and we believe our process can serve as a model for other states to conduct their review,” said Gov. Branstad.

The federal grant funding of $632,765 was provided through the National Institute of Justice, a subdivision of the U.S. Department of Justice. The grant application was a joint effort led by the State Public Defender, and included the Iowa Department of Public Safety’s Division of Criminal Investigation, the Midwest Innocence Project, and the Office of Drug Control Policy as grant administrator. “We believe this support from the U.S. Department of Justice is further validation of the great work our agencies have done so far, and we look forward to seeing the results of the review,” stated Lt. Gov. Reynolds.

State Public Defender Adam Gregg announced that Erica Nichols Cook is the new director of the Wrongful Conviction Division. Nichols Cook is a graduate of Drake University Law School, where she was a Public Service Scholar. She is a former staff attorney with the Illinois Innocence Project and an adjunct professor of law with Southern Illinois University. She has also worked as an Assistant Appellate Defender in Illinois, and in the Cook County Public Defender’s Office in Chicago. Gregg thanked the former director, Audrey McGinn, for her great work in helping establish the division.

Nichols Cook provided an update on the work of the Wrongful Conviction Division. In partnership with the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, 184 microscopic hair comparison reports were identified in Iowa cases where an individual is still incarcerated. From there, ninety-six cases were identified for further investigation. Nichols Cook stated that the grant funding will be helpful in supporting the Division’s work. “We’ll use grant funding to prioritize the review of these cases, and see where the facts and the evidence lead us. If the evidence is still in existence, grant funding will allow us to submit the evidence for DNA testing. DNA testing may be able to exonerate the individual, and maybe even identify the real perpetrator.”

More information on the Wrongful Conviction Division, can be found at spd.iowa.gov. A link to the intake questionnaire can be found here:

https://spd.iowa.gov/sites/default/files/Joint%20Questionnaire.pdf

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