An unusual symposium that might beg such a question - showcasing chemistry's role in righting some of the highest-profile cases of innocent people proven guilty - unfolds today at the 244th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS), the world's largest scientific society. It features presentations by forensic scientists, attorneys and others who used science to right wrongs, freeing innocent people and saving the lives of prisoners on death row.
Justin J. McShane, J.D., co-chair of the ACS Division of Chemistry and the Law Forensic Science, noted that the session also will include exonerated people who spent time behind bars for crimes they did not commit.
"This combination of people will make this gathering a unique event, one never before done at such a level," said McShane, who is chairman and CEO of the McShane Firm, Harrisburg, Pa. "It showcases chemistry's critical, but often-hidden role in protecting the innocent through collection and accurate analysis of crime-scene and other evidence."
Participants in the event, entitled "Forensic Chemistry, Science and the Law Presents: Innocence! The Work of the Innocence Project," include Fred Whitehurst, the FBI agent who forced reform of the FBI Crime Lab and was almost fired for doing so; John Lentini, a premier fire investigator whose evidence showed that the State of Texas executed an innocent man; Greg Hampikian, one of the DNA test experts who got Amanda Knox freed after she was convicted of murder in Italy; and Barry Scheck from the O. J. Simpson "Dream Team" defense and co-founder of The Innocence Project at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Yeshiva University.
The symposium is among the special presidential events here sponsored by ACS President Bassam Z. Shakhashiri, Ph.D., who has called on the society's 164,000 members to work as scientist-citizens in solving great global challenges of the 21st century.
"We face challenges such as surging population growth, limited natural resources, malnutrition, disease, climate change, violence and war, and the denial of basic human rights," Shakhashiri explained. "The speakers in this symposium exemplify forensic chemistry in addressing the denial of basic human rights when people are innocent, yet convicted of crimes."
The Innocence Project is a national litigation and public policy organization dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted people through DNA testing and to reforming the criminal justice system to prevent future injustice. So far, the project has been instrumental in the exoneration of 292 people in the U.S., including 17 who served time on death row. They served an average of 13 years in prison before being released.
Provided by American Chemical Society
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