Eyes widened and jaws dropped last night at the haunting
retellings of women who believe they have been unjustly
incarcerated for self-defense crimes. Students gathered at the
Michigan League to raise awareness and provide a voice for
imprisoned women through the Michigan Battered Women’s
Clemency Project.

The project is a nationwide program to help women who claim to
be wrongfully accused of murder.

“The purpose of the Women’s Clemency Project is to
petition for women who are unjustly incarcerated for self-defense
crimes against abusive partners,” said LSA junior Megan
Shuchman, co-coordinator of the event.

Clemency is a process by which petitions are submitted to the
governor on behalf of prisoners requesting their release.

“Clemency is not the same thing as being pardoned:
It’s not saying that you’re innocent, just that you
deserve your freedom,” said Shuchman.

Event leaders shocked and riveted their audience with personal
accounts of women currently seeking clemency from the state.

One woman, convinced to return home by her abusive husband, was
later that night set on fire in her sleep. Still, she serves a life
sentence for the murder of her husband.

These women are rarely granted clemency. Lynn D’Orio, a
criminal defense lawyer involved in current petitions, said that
despite frequent denials, her work is still very rewarding.
“The handful of victories are very sweet but there is a lot
of frustration,” D’Orio said.

Established in 1989, the Clemency Project is currently
petitioning Gov. Jennifer Granholm on behalf of 20 such women.
These women have been selected from nearly 100 others, chosen by
careful evaluation of the validity of their case.

“We’re asking volunteers to take these errors and
make compelling arguments.

“I’ve also found that students write better than
lawyers. If you can give the women a voice, you can give them a
chance,” said D’Orio.

LSA junior Joseph Kudia agreed the project was a great
opportunity for students to challenge inequalities in the judicial
system. “These problems are onset by poor public
defenses,” said Kudia. The Clemency Project believes that
these women are not a threat to society, but rather have been
treated unjustly and have a right to their freedom. “This
event is about the women — that’s what’s most
important to us.

We’re providing them with a voice when they can’t
speak out. We want to raise awareness. Even if it’s a small
group, it doesn’t matter because this is about the
women,” said Shuchman.

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