For International Wrongful Conviction Day on October 2, over 60 CA students attended a special speaking program arranged by CA history teacher Stephanie Manzella, who teaches a research seminar, Crime and Punishment, about mass incarceration and the evolution of the U.S. criminal justice system. The students heard from individuals involved in a particular case of wrongful conviction: exoneree Christopher ”Omar“ Martinez and his attorneys, Chauncey Wood P’22, a criminal defense attorney with Wood & Nathanson, LLP, and Boston College Law adjunct professor Charlotte Whitmore (also a squash coach at CA).
Wood described the problems of witness testimony and police and prosecutorial misconduct that led Omar Martinez to find himself serving a life sentence for a crime he didn’t commit. At the age of 19, Martinez was asked, after a seven-hour interrogation and without a lawyer or parent present, to sign a confession in English though he didn’t speak the language. Martinez signed, not knowing what the document said but hoping it would get him out of trouble.
Martinez spoke movingly about his feelings of abandonment in prison, how his first lawyer failed him, and how the interpreter assigned to his case neglected to interpret the legal proceedings fully and assumed his guilt. When Wood began to represent him, he said, he first started to have some hope.
After Martinez described his incarceration and emotional struggles upon release, students had an opportunity to ask questions. One asked about his first day in prison. Martinez said he was placed in a cell with a man who confessed to murder in a crime related to the one that he, Martinez, had been accused of, making him a suspect in the crime for which Martinez was sentenced. He didn’t sleep for 72 hours for fear of his cellmate.
Students asked what rights he had to a competent interpreter (none) and whether the prosecutor who withheld evidence from a witness who could demonstrate Martinez’s innocence had faced any consequences (no).
Wood and Whitmore both emphasized the widespread problem of false confessions, the cause of Martinez’s incarceration — one of several factors contributing to wrongful criminal conviction, which this day of awareness was established to make more visible. Resources developed by the Boston College Innocence Program, the New England Innocence Project, and the CPCS Innocence Program (from the Committee for Public Counsel Services, the Massachusetts state agency tasked with providing lawyers to people who cannot afford an attorney) educated students about steps they can take to make their voices heard about this issue.
As I write to you today, our world is still grappling with the great challenges that COVID-19 has created. Indeed, the situation in many places has unfortunately grown considerably worse since my last letter. I offer my sincere condolences to those of you who have suffered illness or lost loved ones to this pandemic. This disease has caused extraordinary pain, stress, and dismay on so many levels. We must all find ways to focus on hope and the prospects of the recovery that will come, and the opportunities that any crisis presents to assert our powers of caring and goodness. We hope you are leaning on and helping those around you.
Ceci Crawford ’20 had planned to complete a senior project on reducing food waste in the Stu-Fac. With the arrival of distance learning mid-semester, she shifted her focus to how community members can reduce food waste at home. For this video, part of her project, she interviewed CA seniors and faculty members who are trying a variety of tactics to reduce food waste while they practice social distancing. “My hope is that this would remind everyone to think a little more about their own food waste when they’re at home,” she says.
The Spanish for Heritage Speakers course, which launched in fall 2019, offers students language instruction tailored to the specific needs of students who grew up speaking or hearing the language at home.