The Tennessee Innocence Project

About

Taking a Second Look for the Innocent in Tennessee.

Our Plan.

The Tennessee Innocence Project will be a 501c3 non-profit designed to prevent and correct wrongful convictions throughout the State of Tennessee.

The Tennessee Innocence Project is a stop-gap in an imperfect criminal justice system that doesn’t always get it right.  The Tennessee Innocence Project has three primary areas of focus:

1) litigating wrongful conviction cases for those in Tennessee prisons to obtain exonerations,

2) training law students and attorneys about how to litigate these cases and how to prevent future wrongful convictions, and

3) effectuating changes that facilitate the discovery of wrongful convictions and remedies to the wrongfully convicted.

Where We’ve Been, Where We’re Going.

There has been an innocence movement in Tennessee for close to two decades. In order to understand where we’re going, it helps to know where we’ve been.

In 2000, and with the support and guidance of the national Innocence Project, volunteers from all of Tennessee – west, middle and east – to include the attorneys in leadership of the Tennessee Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and law students and professors with the University of Tennessee College of Law in Knoxville, created the Tennessee Innocence Project, a non-profit organization. Some initial grassroots fundraising occurred to create a small fund at the law school to be used for investigative and expert assistance, and physical space for the project was provided by the University of Tennessee College of Law within the UT Legal Clinic, recognized as one of the preeminent law school legal clinics in the United States.

The project relied solely on volunteers to review requests for assistance, investigate cases, litigate innocence and wrongful convictions claims, and make efforts at criminal justice policy reform. Given that the Tennessee Innocence Project was an all-volunteer effort, and the size of Tennessee, the number of cases that could be reviewed and litigated were few at any given time. Despite these limits, case successes and policy reforms were achieved that have real impact today on Tennessee’s criminal justice system.

The Tennessee Innocence Project successfully helped draft, obtained legislative sponsorship, and advocated for the passage of the Tennessee Post-Conviction DNA Analysis Act of 2001. The PC DNA Act as it exists in Tennessee is one of the best statutes in the nation in the way it provides a procedure – absent any time limitations after conviction – for testing evidence in cases to expose innocence and wrongful convictions. And, under Tennessee’s PC DNA Act, independent DNA testing is provided at no cost for those who are indigent. For those cases where the evidence is still in existence and a claim can be made that DNA testing can shed light on innocence, the PC DNA statute is a powerful tool. In addition to the PC DNA Act, volunteer attorneys, law professors and law students working with the Tennessee Innocence Project were instrumental in investigating and litigating actual innocence and wrongful convictions cases that led to appellate decisions in Tennessee that created procedures for innocence claims to be raised when there is no DNA evidence and the conviction was years – even decades – in the past.

From 2009 until 2018, the Tennessee Innocence Project functioned as the Innocence Clinic at the UT College of Law, where it remained the only innocence organization in Tennessee. For some of that time, law students with Vanderbilt Law School worked in coordination with the Innocence Clinic to review Tennessee cases identified by the Hair Microscopy Review Project, a collaboration of the U.S. Department of Justice, the Innocence Project, and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. Students examined Tennessee cases involving questionable hair comparison evidence and unreliable expert testimony. For almost a decade, the Innocence Clinic helped train law students and lawyers on how to investigate and litigate innocence claims, and provided direct representation to those wrongfully convicted in Tennessee at all levels of the legal system, conducting post-conviction, coram nobis, and PC DNA hearings throughout the state in circuit and criminal courts, federal habeas claims in United States District Courts, as well as appeals at the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals, Tennessee Supreme Court, and even the United States Supreme Court. The Innocence Clinic could only handle a small number of cases at a time, though, with just law student support and part-time attorney assistance, and there remained a need for a state-wide non-profit organization.

We know where we’ve been, and now we’re going to the next level. A dedicated group of people – some who have been involved with the innocence movement in Tennessee since its beginning – have revived the Tennessee Innocence Project as a state-wide non-profit, expanding its mission to operate with multiple law schools, law firms, advocacy groups, and other partners in all parts of Tennessee, with the focus on providing the resources, staff and infrastructure necessary to fight for the innocent.

 

 

Our Leadership

 
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Executive director/LEAD COUNSEL

Jessica Van Dyke

 

Education

UNIVERSITY OF TENNESSEE COLLEGE OF LAW
Juris Doctor, 2011

VANDERBILT UNIVERSITY
M.A., Political Science, 2007

KNOX COLLEGE
B.A., Political Science, 2005

Activities & Affiliations

• Tennessee Bar Association, Nashville Bar Association
• Tennessee Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
• Recipient of the 2018 Robert W. Ritchie Service Award from the Tenn. Ass’n of Criminal Defense Lawyers

Bar Admissions

• Tennessee

 

 
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BOARD OF DIRECTORS

Stephen Ross Johnson, President of the Board

Stephen Ross Johnson is the incorporator of the Tennessee Innocence Project and serves as the President of the Board of Directors. He is a partner with Ritchie, Dillard, Davies and Johnson, PC in Knoxville, and is a nationally-known criminal defense trial and appellate attorney. Mr. Johnson has defended criminal cases in state and federal courts throughout the United States, ranging from complex white collar financial crimes to death penalty cases.

In addition to his private practice, Mr. Johnson has been involved in the innocence movement in Tennessee for nearly two decades. In 2000, he helped start and lead an earlier form of the Project that later became the Innocence Clinic at the University of Tennessee College of Law, where he served as an adjunct professor and director from 2009-2018. Mr. Johnson assisted in the effort that led to the passage of the Tennessee Post-Conviction DNA Analysis Act of 2001, and he has successfully litigated innocence cases that not only reversed wrongful convictions but helped establish the procedures in Tennessee for bringing newly discovered evidence claims.

Mr. Johnson serves on the Board of Directors of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) and is a past President of the Tennessee Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (TACDL). For three consecutive years he served as chair of the Tennessee Bar Association (TBA) Criminal Justice Section and also served as the Associate General Counsel for the TBA. Mr. Johnson is on faculty with the Tennessee Criminal Defense College (TCDC), co-chairs NACDL’s Sixth Circuit amicus and membership committees, and actively serves on the white-collar defense, sentencing, and investment committees of NACDL. He serves on the board of the Knoxville Bar Association and as co-chair of the law office technology and management committee, and is the president-elect and an emeritus Master of the Bench with the Hamilton Burnett Chapter of the American Inns of Court. He is a fellow of the American, Tennessee, and Knoxville Bar Foundations. For his volunteer efforts, the TBA honored Mr. Johnson with its Access to Justice Award. For many years he has been listed in Best Lawyers in America in white-collar criminal defense and has achieved an AV rating for preeminent legal ability and ethical standards from Martindale-Hubbell.

Mr. Johnson has published articles and taught lawyers, law students, members of law enforcement, and others across the country on criminal law and litigation issues. He is a graduate of the National Criminal Defense College (NCDC) and received his Doctor of Jurisprudence, with honors, from the University of Tennessee College of Law. Mr. Johnson completed his undergraduate education at Carson-Newman University, receiving a Bachelor of Arts in International Economics with a minor in Political Science. He attended graduate school at the University of Glasgow, Scotland, where he was a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar, graduated with a Diploma in Contemporary Economic History and worked as an economist for Govan Initiative, a Scottish economic development agency. Prior to becoming a lawyer, Mr. Johnson also worked in the education, banking, retail, farming, and manufacturing sectors, and even as a juvenile probation officer and private investigator. He regularly draws on his diverse academic and vocational experiences in representing his clients.

 
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Lorna McClusky, Treasurer

Ms. McClusky graduated from Memphis State University's Cecil Humphrey's School of Law in 1994. While there she served the Law Review journal as comments Editor and a Board Member. She began practicing law solely in the criminal field in 1998, when she began to work with William D. Massey. Within a year, she became a partner.

Ms. McClusky is a life member of NACDL and has served on the Judicial, Forensic, Death Penalty, and Discovery Committees of that organization. She is a life member of TACDL and has served on the board CLE committee, Death Penalty committee and is the organization's secretary. She is known by peers for her work in federal courts, capital murder cases and forfeiture proceedings.

Brad MacLean, Secretary

Attorney Brad MacLean focused on civil litigation for more than twenty-five years before setting his sights on criminal justice reform.  Mr. MacLean attended Stanford University and Emory University before earning his law degree from Vanderbilt University Law School in 1981.  Mr. MacLean was court appointed to his first capital post-conviction case in 1990, which resulted in the vacating of the petitioner’s conviction and sentence. In 2007, Mr. MacLean left his partnership at Stites & Harbison in Nashville to become Executive Director of the non-profit Tennessee Justice Project, which worked to increase fairness and accuracy in the Tennessee indigent criminal justice system with a focus on Tennessee’s death penalty system. 

In 2009, Mr. MacLean became a post-conviction defender for the State of Tennessee, representing death row inmates in state post-conviction proceedings – a role he held for the next four years.  For the past decade, post-conviction and death penalty litigation has been the center stone of Mr. MacLean’s practice.  He has published numerous articles about the death penalty in peer-reviewed journals. Mr. MacLean has served as an adjunct professor at both the University of Tennessee College of Law and Vanderbilt University Law School.  Mr. MacLean has represented clients in numerous state post-conviction and federal habeas corpus cases.

Josie Holland, Esq.

Originally from Paris, Tennessee, Josie Holland studied music at Rhodes College before receiving her JD and MBA from The University of Memphis. She works at the Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law as the Public Interest Counselor while also maintaining a solo practice. Her law practice consists primarily of indigent criminal defense cases. As Public Interest Counselor, she oversees the school’s pro bono program. Assisting tenured faculty, Ms. Holland leads and encourages student participation in direct legal service projects at the law school. She is the Vice President of the St. Thomas More Catholic Lawyer’s Guild and a member of the Tennessee Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

Joy Radice, Esq.

Joy Radice has been a professor at the UT College of Law since August 2012. Professor Radice’s scholarship focuses on the intersection of criminal law and the administrative state, and the gap in access to civil counsel. Professor Radice teaches Advocacy Clinic, Criminal Law, a seminar on Poverty, Race, Gender and the Law, and a new Expungement Clinic. In 2012, she was awarded a UT Creative Teaching Grant, and she is currently a UT Junior Faculty Fellow.

Prior to UT, Professor Radice was the 2008-09 NYU Derrick Bell Fellow and an Acting Assistant Professor at NYU School of Law. Professor Radice has dedicated her legal career to serving those who cannot afford legal representation. While attending Harvard Law School, she was a member of the Legal Aid Bureau, a student-run legal services organization, and she was a community organizer who helped women in Cambridge public housing start their own tenants’ organization. After graduating law school, Professor Radice received a Skadden Public Interest Fellowship to launch the Harlem Reentry Advocacy Project to represent people facing collateral consequences of criminal convictions. The project was housed at the Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem, where she also represented clients in criminal and civil cases. This work led to her research about the enduring impact that criminal convictions and juvenile adjudications have on people’s lives through their post-conviction civil penalties.




 
 

ADVISORY COUNCIL

Marc Caudel, Memphis

Marc Caudel is a Criminal Defense Investigator and Mitigation Specialist based in his hometown, Memphis, Tennessee.   After being honorably discharged from the U.S. Navy where he served as a Hospital Corpsman for 10 years, he moved to San Francisco where he studied International Relations. He then moved to Mexico at which time he volunteered with the Red Cross in Lake Chapala, Jalisco and studied Spanish. After returning to the United States, he began his career in indigent defense as an intern at the Public Defender’s office in Memphis, TN, where he was later hired as an investigator and worked on the Capital Defense Team. He then worked for the Federal Public Defender, both in the traditional unit as well as the Capital Habeas Unit, before returning to school where he received his Master’s of Science in Criminal Justice specializing in behavioral analysis.

As an investigator, he has assisted in the defense of close to 200 First Degree Murder cases in both State and Federal court and well over 2000 other felony cases that include a wide array of crimes. While working in conjunction with the defense attorney, he has been instrumental in being able to create reasonable doubt on a countless number of cases that either resulted in dismissals, acquittal’s or plea agreements for lesser offenses.

 Having traveled throughout Asia, Europe and Central America, and having lived abroad in Japan and Mexico, he speaks multiple languages and can adapt to other cultures with ease. This has made him effective in his abilities to interview family members and witnesses that come from diverse backgrounds, cultures, and socioeconomic groups.

Mr. Caudel is a member of the Tennessee Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (TACDL), National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL), National Defense Investigator Association (NDIA).  He has devoted his life and career to helping those who are in need of assistance and is honored to now be able to be a part of the Tennessee Innocence Project.

Stephanie Ditenhafer, Nashville

Joey Fuson, Nashville

Joseph Fuson began working in Tennessee law firms at the age of 20 and has dedicated his professional life to being a trial attorney. He was born and raised in Middle Tennessee, went to high school in Middle Tennessee and graduated from University of Tennessee – Knoxville Cum Laude in 2000. Mr. Fuson continued working after college at a civil litigation firm and attended law school at Nashville School of Law. Mr. Fuson was licensed to practice law in the State of Tennessee in 2006, partnering with Mark Freeman shortly thereafter and forming Freeman & Fuson in 2009.   Mr. Fuson is an active member of the Tennessee Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and a graduate from the TACDL Trial Attorney’s College and Advanced Trial Skills College. 

Professor Sue Kay, Nashville

Dean William Koch, Nashville

Lawrence “Boo” Mitchell, Memphis

Lawrence "Boo" Mitchell is a GRAMMY Award-winning engineer, producer, composer, award-winning movie producer and studio owner of Royal Studios in Memphis.

Buford H. “Buddy” Ortale, Nashville

Mark Stephens, Knoxville

Mark Stephens is currently serving his fourth term as the elected District Public Defender for the Sixth Judicial District (Knox County, Tennessee), a position he has held since 1990. He practiced law in the private sector for nearly 10 years before committing to public defense services. Mr. Stephens has dedicated his career to building the Knox County Public Defender's Community Law Office into a national model of holistic, client-centered representation. He previously served as President of the Tennessee District Public Defender's Conference and Chair of the Tennessee Supreme Court's Indigent Defense Commission. Mr. Stephens served for two years as Chair of the National Association for Public Defense and currently serves on the Steering and Executive Committees of that organization. He served for eight years as a member of the Board of Directors for Gideon’s Promise.

In 2011, Gideon's Promise presented him with the Stephen B. Bright Award in recognition of his contribution to the effort to improve the quality of indigent defense in the South. Mr. Stephens is a member of the ABA and NACDL. On the state level, he is a member of Tennessee Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (TACDL), which twice awarded him the prestigious Robert W. Ritchie Award (2000 and 2007), and he is a member of the Tennessee Bar Association.  On a local level, he is a member of the Knoxville Bar Association, which in 1995 presented him with the Law and Liberty Award for his efforts in the advancement and protection of law and liberty. In 2002, Mr. Stephens was presented with the UT Pro Bono award for outstanding contributions to the Innocence Project. In 2016, Mr. Stephens was awarded the Governor’s Award by the KBA for his work in developing the Community Law Office. In 2017 he was selected to become a Fellow of the Knoxville Bar Foundation. Since 2004, Mr. Stephens has served as an Adjunct Professor of Law at the University of Tennessee College of Law, where he teaches Trial Advocacy. In 2017, Stephens was named the Outstanding Adjunct Faculty Member by the Law School. In 2019, Mr. Stephens was selected to become a Fellow in the American College of Trial Lawyers.

Grace Hammond Skertich, Memphis

Grace is a labor and employment attorney at FedEx in Memphis, Tennessee. She attended Millsaps College and graduated from Mississippi College School of Law in Jackson, Mississippi in 2009. She served as Articles Editor of the Law Review and was a member of the Moot Court Board. During law school, she volunteered extensively for the Mississippi Center for Justice developing a deep passion for fairness and equality in the criminal justice system.

Jason Strong, Gallatin

Jason Strong was 24 in Dec of 1999, when his world was torn apart through wrongful conviction. He spent the next 15 1/2 years fighting to prove his innocence, acting as his own attorney for a large portion of that time, until he secured the assistance of an amazing legal team. In May of 2015 his conviction was vacated, and he was free to go home. A year later he was granted a certificate of innocence from the courts, clearing him completely. Since his release Mr. Strong has been active in educating others about wrongful convictions and claims of innocence. He has given numerous talks at places like Northwestern’s Bluhm Legal Clinic, the University of Illinois-Springfield, the Police Training Institute in Champaign, Illinois, Vanderbilt University, Stetson University in Florida, Innocence Network Conferences, and more. He’s spoken to various podcasts and radio spots, including the podcasts Wrongful Convictions with Jason Flom and PI’s Declassified with Francie Koehler. He’s the wrongful conviction consultant on the new FOX legal drama “Proven Innocent.” He’s produced, directed, and edited multiple episodes of a local cable access music show, as well as a short film in which he personally participated. Most recently, Jason hosted a local community event on Wrongful Conviction Day. He serves on a number of committees for the Innocence Network and stays active in numerous state Innocence Projects. He is also writing a book, two movies, and filming a documentary.  Jason is passionate about serving others. You can read about Jason’s story HERE.

Professor Penny White, Knoxville

Penny White is the Elvin E. Overton Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of Tennessee College of Law, where she directs the Center for Advocacy and Dispute Resolution and previously directed the UT Legal Clinic.  White also serves as a Visiting Professor at Harvard Law School and as a member of the faculty at the National Judicial College.  White teaches evidence, trial practice, pretrial litigation, negotiations, and assists the law school’s various clinical and externship programs.  She also lectures around the country at legal and judicial education programs on each of these areas as well as about criminal procedure, capital punishment jurisprudence, and attorney and judicial ethics and professionalism issues.  Before beginning her teaching career, White practiced law in a small firm and as a solo practitioner, focusing on criminal defense, civil rights, family law, and employment law.  While a solo practitioner, she successfully argued in the United States Supreme Court.  White left private practice to serve as a Circuit Court Judge in the First Judicial District, and thereafter served on the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals and the Tennessee Supreme Court. 

While at UT, White has received the university’s Jefferson Prize for excellence in research and creative activity and the Alumni Award for outstanding teacher.  In 2019, she was named the SEC Professor for the University of Tennessee.  White has also received two awards for exemplary service to the College and the profession and two awards for research, including an award for her Harvard Law Review article “Relinquished Responsibilities,” addressing the failure of state judges to adhere to important restrictions on political behavior. The students at the College of Law have selected White twice as the law school’s outstanding teacher and the Knoxville Bar Association honored her in 2017 with its highest honor, the Governor’s Award. 

White has published numerous articles on evidence, criminal procedure, and ethics and has authored several benchbooks for state court judges.  She is most proud of her book on the defense of capital cases, for which she was awarded the Ritchie Award by the Tennessee Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.