Group raises awareness for the wrongfully convicted

March 14, 2014
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Jim McNutt / Observer-Reporter
MaryAnn Lubas, whose son is incarcerated, speaks about wrongful convictions Friday on the steps of Washington County Courthouse. Order a Print
Image description
Jim McNutt / Observer-Reporter
Participants in the Freedom March stand on the steps of Washington County Courthouse Friday. Order a Print

MaryAnn Lubas is convinced her son did not commit the crime of which he has was convicted. For the last six years, Lubas has fought to raise awareness about wrongful convictions and to bring about change in the American legal system.

On Friday, Lubas and several others gathered outside the Washington County Courthouse, hoping to reach at least one person through the sixth annual Freedom March.

Freedom March is a national movement that focuses on wrongful convictions and looks to bring an end to the death penalty. Lubas is the Pennsylvania director. She said her son’s conviction “opened my eyes to the wrongs in the justice system,” and that she was compelled to raise awareness about the effects of wrongful convictions. Lubas said she traveled to Washington, D.C., to give testimony about the reforms needed to prevent others from being wrongfully convicted.

Jeffrey Deskovic also shared his experience. Deskovic, of New York, was found guilty for rape and murder when he was 17. He spent 16 years in prison before his conviction was overturned in November 2006. Shortly thereafter, Deskovic took part of his settlement with the state of New York and created the Jeffrey Deskovic Foundation for Justice, which seeks to raise awareness, make legislative changes and work with the wrongful convicted.

“This can, and does, happen to anyone,” Deskovic said. “It takes a lot of people to come together to correct injustices.”

First Assistant District Attorney Chad Schneider said wrongful convictions normally are older cases that didn’t have the benefit of DNA or that involve mistaken identities. He said there was a difference between a wrongful conviction, which he says is rare, and a case that comes back on appeal as the result of an error.

“(Wrongful convictions) can happen anywhere,” he said. “But they are rare in general.”

While previous marches were in Pittsburgh, Lubas said the group chose Washington County in part because of an upcoming hearing for her son, Michael DeLoe.

DeLoe, of North Strabane Township, was convicted in 2009 of sexually assaulting a 5-year-old girl. He was sentenced to 8 to 16 years in prison, and has already served six years. On Monday, DeLoe has a hearing before Washington County Judge John DiSalle to determine if there is enough evidence for a new trial. Lubas said DeLoe was not given the opportunity to testify during his first trial and that certain information was not brought to the attention of the jury.

Lubas said that in 2013, 87 previously convicted people were exonerated across the United States.

“It’s much easier to be convicted than it is to be exonerated,” she said.

Francesca Sacco joined the Observer-Reporter as a staff writer in November 2013, and covers the Washington County Courthouse and education. Prior to working with the Observer-Reporter, Francesca was a staff writer with a Gannett paper in Ohio. She graduated from Point Park University with a dual bachelor’s degree in print and broadcast journalism.

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