Innocence Project Exoneree Shares Tale of Injustice with YU Students at Pre-Law Event
At an event to mark this year’s Constitution Day, which pays homage to the rights guaranteed to all American citizens, Yeshiva University’s Pre-Law Society heard from one man who had finally regained his freedom after serving 17 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.
“It can happen to you like it happened to me,” said Barry Gibbs, whose name was cleared in 2005 by the Innocence Project, a national litigation and public policy organization started at YU’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law that is dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted individuals through DNA testing. “Just like you’re innocent and you’re walking around on the street on your day off from school, I was innocent and carefree.”
Before an audience of undergraduates and professors on the Wilf Campus, Gibbs spoke of how he was carefully framed by Louis J. Eppolito, a corrupt police detective with connections to a New York crime family, more than 20 years ago. Arrested for the murder of a woman even though he did not match the physical description of the perpetrator taken at the crime scene, Gibbs was also picked out of a police lineup by an eyewitness who had been paid off by Eppolito. In 1988, he was convicted and sent to the Attica Correctional Facility.
“I used to go to the library to study the law so I could fight for my innocence,” said Gibbs. He contacted the Innocence Project nine years after his conviction for assistance in obtaining DNA evidence to help him argue his case. By that point all of the necessary evidence had either been destroyed or lost, his appeals were denied, and Gibbs became resigned to the idea that he would die in jail. It wasn’t until Eppolito was investigated for other crimes in 2004 that proof of Gibbs’ innocence began to come to light, leading to his eventual exoneration.
“I thought this was an issue that aspiring lawyers in particular should be exposed to because it’s important for attorneys and judges to realize the awesome responsibility and privilege they carry as officers of the court,” said Ariella Hellman, pre-law advisor on the Wilf campus. “Lawyers can do so much good, but when left in the wrong hands, the law can also bring about profoundly damaging consequences. I also wanted to expose our students to the incredible work done by the Innocence Project out of our very own Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law.”
Elianne Neuman, a sophomore at Stern College for Women, found the corruption of elected or appointed officials in Gibbs’ case especially shocking. “We always think elections are the easiest way to guarantee democracy, but now I’m not so sure,” she said. “Tonight opened my eyes to the inequities and corruption in our legal system that someone not intimately involved with it wouldn’t even know to look for. Usually the crime shows on TV are about catching the villain, not freeing a suspect.”
“Mr. Gibbs was a victim of a miscarriage of justice who has nevertheless become a passionate humanitarian and icon of inspiration and resilience,” said David Danesh, a co-president of the Pre-Law Society. “It was a privilege to hear from him.”