Opening Statements

The Eyewitness

Posted Mar 1, 2010 5:40 AM CDT
By Deborah L. Cohen

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John Maki
Photo by Rep3.com

Alan Beaman and Thaddeus Jimenez may not be familiar names to most Americans, but John Maki believes they should be. The men, who were wrongfully convicted of crimes they did not commit, were exonerated through the help of innocence projects.

Now Maki, using new media channels such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, is raising awareness of the issue of wrongful convictions through short advocacy videos designed to tell the victims’ stories.

His emotionally charged original material often features post-exoneration footage of victims reuniting with their families on the day of their release from prison, as well as interviews with attorneys and other supporters who have worked on the cases, sometimes for years against overwhelming odds.

“This is an issue that needs more attention,” says Maki, a former teacher who passed the Illinois bar last year. “A lot of these wrongful convictions happen because people aren’t watching; they don’t care.”

Maki, 34, says he is filling a void left by mainstream journalism, where sharply reduced newsroom budgets have resulted in limited resources for investigative reporting that could bring wrongful conviction cases more into the public eye. He also sees the value of letting the victims tell their stories, often bringing them to schools, churches and synagogues to speak. “Once you dig into this, it’s hard not to see the larger systemic problem,” he says. “People are automatically drawn in on a very emotional level.”

The efforts are clearly helping to spread the word, says Rob Warden, executive director for the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law, which has given Maki office space.

Maki has also formed partnerships with other Midwestern law school members of the Innocence Network, an international alliance of projects.

“The videos are quite powerful,” says Warden, who met Maki through center client Johnnie Lee Savory, who in 1977 was falsely convicted at age 14 of murder. Released in 2006, Savory is still working to get DNA testing that will clear his name.

View one of Maki's videos:

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