The University of Colorado’s Innocence Project got a boost and a new name with a $190,000 donation from Korey Wise, a man exonerated in New York City’s high-profile Central Park jogger case.
The program, operated out of CU’s law school, is now named the Korey Wise Innocence Project at Colorado Law. Wise’s donation allowed the student-led volunteer program to hire a full-time director this fall and provides financial support for its investigative work.
The Innocence Project is a national nonprofit with chapters across the country that investigate claims of wrongful convictions. Colorado’s chapter was founded in 2001 under the Colorado Lawyers Committee and moved to the CU law school in 2010.
Wise was 16 when he was tried and convicted as an adult in connection with the 1989 attack and rape of a female jogger in Central Park.
He spent more than a decade in prison and was exonerated in 2002 after another man admitted to the attack and DNA testing confirmed his involvement. The convictions of the four other men accused in the attack were also overturned.
The men, who became known as the Central Park Five, settled with the city of New York for $41 million in 2014.
This is believed to be Wise’s first major philanthropic gift.
His attorney, Jane Fisher-Byrialsen, said Wise wanted to play an active role in a program related to wrongful convictions and learned that a donation to CU’s Innocence Project would make more of an impact than one to the national nonprofit.
Wise, 42, met with CU law students during a campus visit this fall. “This opportunity came up where he could give to a program that really needed it,” said Fisher-Byrialsen, who splits her time between Colorado and New York City. “He thought his money would make a big difference here and I think it already has.”
Prior to creating a full-time director position, the program was run by a clinical law professor who donated her time. Hiring a staff member allows for continuity across different groups of students, said Kristy Martinez, the program’s new director.
Martinez said students are inspired to investigate potential wrongful convictions because people like Wise have “fascinating” stories. They also get a chance to apply and understand theoretical knowledge they’ve learned in class.
There are about 35 law students investigating 26 Colorado cases at the moment, with 200 pending case applications in the queue, Martinez said.
For those convicted, the work of law students and other volunteers is often a last chance at exoneration, which is why Wise decided to support the program, his attorney said.
“There’s not many other avenues, other than these types of programs,” said Wise’s attorney. “It’s very difficult. It’s time-consuming and you have to do it pro bono. People who are serving 25-to-life are not going to have money to pay you.”
Korey Wise Innocence Project at Colorado Law: colorado.edu/law/academics/clinics/korey-wise-innocence-project