Innocence Clinic Challenges Armed Burglary Conviction

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The tireless and tenacious work of Innocence Clinic students is often unsung. Wrongful convictions of innocent people take years to litigate properly. But in the case of Jerome Hill, Innocence Clinic students have found enough evidence and deficiencies in trial counsel’s performance to ask for a new trial. Hill was convicted of armed burglary of a tuxedo store in Pensacola. He has steadfastly maintained his innocence from the very beginning.

When his case arrived in the clinic, students Don Guerrazzi and Michael Trupos investigated. “They did excellent work dissecting the case,” said Associate Director Craig Trocino.

The students uncovered many deficiencies in the defense counsel’s performance at trial. Hill’s defense lawyer did not investigate an alibi and did not investigate a witness who saw the perpetrators but knows Hill and can state that neither person was Hill.

“This was a huge revelation since the only evidence was eyewitness ID evidence which is the leading cause of wrongful convictions,” said Guerrazzi. Trial counsel also failed to object to some very prejudicial and irrelevant evidence that had the effect of bolstering an already suggestive ID.

Both Guerrazzi and Trupos spent many hours investigating Hill’s alibi and tracking down witnesses to assist his case.

It is precisely this type of investigation and legal analysis the students learn in the Innocence Clinic. “We teach the students to investigate every parameter of the case from the police reports the witnesses and the law,” said Innocence Clinic Director, Sarah Mourer. “Sadly, had trial counsel done the investigation that Don and Michael did, Mr. Hill would not be where he is today,” she said.

The investigative process set out in the clinic creates a unique learning experience for the students. They learn the art of investigation, the law of wrongful convictions, and apply it all to real clients in need of help and a voice. Guerrazzi and Trupos drafted the motion for post conviction relief pursuant to Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure, 3.850 and that motion was filed on Hill’s behalf. The Clinic and Hill are now awaiting a ruling from the court.