BYU fellowship students help free innocent prisoners

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Editor’s note: this story pairs with “Rocky Mountain Innocence Center helps free wrongfully convicted inmates”

BYU alumnus Kurt London always knew he wanted to be a lawyer. Hi father, a judge in California, inspired him to go into law as a criminal prosecutor. But as London interned with several different prosecuting groups, he noticed a troubling truth.

“I realized the system isn’t set up for the innocent,” London said.

This realization pushed London into innocence work and eventually to the Rocky Mountain Innocence Center. The Rocky Mountain Innocence Center works to research, litigate and ultimately overturn wrongful convictions in Nevada, Wyoming and Utah, as well as push policy reforms in those jurisdictions.

Ellen Huish
The Galbraith Family with Dean Gordon Smith (2d from left), Jarrett Adams (6th from left), and Prof. Carl Hernandez (far right). The Galbraith’s funding allows BYU law students to pursue innocence work. (Ellen Huish)

London began his career with the center as a Nelson Galbraith fellow. The Galbraith family funds a BYU fellowship for innocence work. The center annually accepts students from the University of Utah and BYU for a yearlong internship.

Student fellows research and collect evidence for cases the group has accepted. The fellows collect documents, interview clients, track down witnesses and go through evidence to build a strong case to prove the client’s innocence.

London said the cases he worked on had a strong impact on him.  

“It was a very hands-on experience,” London said. “I was very invested with those cases.”

BYU Law School Assistant Dean Wendy Archibald said stories of wrongful conviction can be powerful motivators for law students. BYU Law frequently brings in speakers to relate their exoneration experiences for students.

“Hearing firsthand accounts of those who are wrongfully convicted and spend years in prison serves to remind us of our responsibility to follow the Savior and act as advocates,” Archibald said. “Legal training expands our capacity, opportunity and responsibility to lift up the hands which hang down.”

For London, this firsthand experience as a student led to a job with the Rocky Mountain Innocence Center. He currently works as a staff attorney, supervising student fellows and litigating cases.

“I think coming up with the (center) will help me to be aware as a prosecutor,” London said. “I want to change the system from within.”

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