Exonerating the innocent
UNM School of Law program upholds ‘justice for all’ in New Mexico
Below is an excerpt from “Exonerating the innocent,” by Katie Williams, UNM Newsroom
Jacob Duran has sat in a prison cell for three decades, convicted of the murder of an elderly woman who hired him to do work on her home.
At nearly 70 years old, Duran has finally found a reason to rethink his future, thanks to the New Mexico Innocence and Justice Project (NMIJP) at The University of New Mexico School of Law and its quest for justice.
“It appears that the detectives in the case targeted Mr. Duran very early,” said Law School Professor and Director of NMIJP Director Gordon Rahn says, “He was their focus from the get-go.”
"Without NMIJP, Duran would be sitting in prison without any hope. We’re here for those who have been wrongfully convicted.
Rahn says that Duran’s trial was riddled with problematic evidence. After a short deliberation, the jury found him guilty and he immediately began serving his life sentence plus 10 years.
In 2012, Rahn reviewed Duran’s application to have NMIJP to look into his case and the investigation began. The evidence was still in the Albuquerque Police Department storage.
In 2014, the Court granted a petition filed by NMIJP for DNA testing on the evidence, and Rahn and the students working on the case were happy and excited about the outcome. “With the new DNA test results, we knew it wasn’t Duran’s blood and it wasn’t his hair either,” says Rahn.
NMIMP asked the Court to vacate Duran’s convictions based on the new discoveries and awaits a hearing to determine what relief Duran will receive.
“NMIJP is here for those who have been wrongfully convicted. UNM Law students are gaining a valuable understanding on how science has changed evidence, how memory works in eye-witness identification and how the processes we use will be on the frontlines of upholding the law. With their experience, hopefully thirty years from now we won’t have another case like this.”