The George C. Cochran Innocence Project is committed to providing the highest quality legal representation to its clients: Mississippi state prisoners serving significant periods of incarceration who have cognizable claims of wrongful conviction. In addition, the Project seeks to identify and address systemic problems in the criminal justice system and to develop initiatives designed to raise public and political awareness of the prevalence, causes and societal costs of wrongful convictions.
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Discussions about forming the Mississippi Innocence Project (MIP) first occurred in the late winter of 2006. The effort was spurred by Emily Maw, director of Innocence Project New Orleans. IPNO, one of the most successful projects in the country, was receiving hundreds of applications for aid from Mississippi prisoners who had no where else to turn. Indeed, IPNO had already exonerated one Mississippi prisoner and was actively working on another promising case (that client was released in March of 2008). There was every indication that, consistent with the nationwide trend, these individuals were representative of many others in Mississippi’s prisons and jails who themselves had viable claims of innocence but who needed legal assistance to litigate their cases. Ole Miss Law Professor George Cochran, after whom this project is now named, joined with Maw and suggested that the project be housed as a legal clinic with the school. Columbus, Mississippi attorney Wilbur Colom, a long-time friend of Professor Cochran’s, provided seed money to get the concept off of the ground. Thereafter, with the help of former Mississippi Supreme Court justice and Ole Miss Law professor Jimmy Robertson, a vision was developed of what the project could look like and what its place at the Law School should be. Ole Miss Law alum John Grisham and his wife Renee Grisham became supporters, both financially and otherwise. Once faculty at Law School voted to approve of the effort, the director’s position was filed, space was made in the law School, and a fund raiser was held in Jackson in the fall of 2008 to introduce the project. John Grisham and Scott Turow spoke and Chancellor Robert Khayat was the host