Grisham, Turow help raise money for Innocence Project

Best-selling writer John Grisham told a Jackson audience Monday night that the United States legal system is on its way to executing an innocent man.

Grisham and fellow legal thriller author Scott Turow both spoke at a fundraiser for the Mississippi Innocence Project, a nonprofit legal service that seeks to free the innocent from prison using DNA evidence and other methods.

The project, housed at the University of Mississippi Law School, is the newest state effort of the national Innocence Project, which has assisted in exonerating more than 200 people convicted of crimes they did not commit, including Cedric Willis.

Willis, who also attended the fundraiser, was convicted of murder in Jackson in 1997 and sentenced to life without parole plus an additional 90 years. With help from the Innocence Project, Willis was freed from prison in 2006 on the strength of DNA and other evidence.

Grisham says there are many reasons why innocent people are convicted, including lack of access to DNA evidence.

Mississippi is one of eight states without a law allowing defendants access to DNA evidence, something Innocence Project organizers hope to bring before the Mississippi Legislature.

Grisham says there has been very little work done on freeing the innocent in Mississippi and that the Innocence Project was not receiving many pleas for help from the State Penitentiary at Parchman, where there is limited access to lawyers and advocacy groups.