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2014 Top-Rated Nonprofit

Innocence Matters

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Volunteering Oportunities

Nonprofit Overview

Causes: Civil Rights, Civil Rights, Social Action & Advocacy, Crime & Law, Education, Legal Services

Mission: We believe the innocent should not be incarcerated and when mistakes are discovered we should all join forces to correct the error and free the innocent quickly. Our work is primarily focused on the broader goals of education, prevention and reform. We are particularly interested in improving the quality of indigent defense services and implementing systemic changes that will better protect the innocent and encourage the legal community to more quickly acknowledge and correct errors. Our preventative programs are designed to bring about lasting change and provide a broad toolkit for the innocent and their attorneys.

Results: September 24, 2012: John Edward Smith was reunited with his family after serving 19 years for a murder he did not commit. October 10, 2014: Susan Marie Mellen was reunited with her family after serving 17 years for a murder she did not commit.

Target demographics: the innocent

Programs: the I Am Innocent seminar that teaches the innocent how to prevent their wrongful conviction and the Ganging Up on Innocence investigation program to help people who have already been wrongfully convicted.

Community Stories

4 Stories from Volunteers, Donors & Supporters


Client Served

Rating: 5

Innocence Matters is clearly and passionately a second-look organization for people who are wrongfully convicted in Los Angeles County. I thank Innocence Matters and my attorney, Deirdre O’Connor, for the dedication and passion to my Freedom and for setting the “truth” of my wrongful prosecution to be corrected within our judicial system. Without the commitment and loyalty of Deirdre O’Connor, I would still be wrongfully imprisoned and living life without the possibility of parole. Ultimately for my own survival and edification, I had to stay focused on a Life with One Purpose which is to have faith in GOD and to help other innocent women within the judicial system to touch freedom. Now as a free individual, I am living my new adventure and being a voice for Innocence Matters. Life is not worth living unless you are helping someone else. My life has truly evolved to a world of “GOD-Sents”. After seventeen (17) years of wrongful imprisonment, Deirdre was GOD’s angel sent to me with an impassioned pledge to prove my innocence and to unshackled me to my new journey in the “Free World”. I’ve always said from the moment I met Deirdre “She is the Real Deal”. The first time we met, she cried real tears of compassion; seriously, what attorney does that? My new world is open-handed with blessings of my family reunification and love. Deirdre herself is instrumental in making my family complete. I ultimately thank David Winkler for convincing Deirdre O’Connor for taking my case. He, is truly the “key” that opened my door to Freedom. I also thank all the interns that are associated with Innocence Matter; without their continued visits and inspiring communications, my term within the LA County Jail system would have been deplorable.


Board Member

Rating: 5

I was asked to join the Board after Deirdre O'Connor read a blog post I had written about my experience helping two wrongfully convicted men arrange their financial affairs stemming from civil lawsuits they pursued. I was unsure how much help I could be but soon was won over by Deirdre's passion and commitment to this cause. Once John Smith's exoneration was won, it all came together and I was glad I became part of this effort. When an individual publicly proclaims that "Innocence Matters saved (his) life" as John Smith has, you know you're part of something very important.


Board Member

Rating: 5

I have been involved in criminal justice issues for over 10 years, and the work that Innocence Matters does is extremely important and needed to install a level of fairness that is unfortunately missing from the current system. All one has to do is look at the most recent exoneration in Texas, where a man sat wrongfully accused for 30 years, to comprehend the important work Innocence Matters undertakes. The legal representation, research and activism the organization does is not just on behalf of the wrongfully accused but for all of us. Innocence Matters aims to build a fair and just criminal justice system and it is a mission we all should fully support.


Board Member

Rating: 5

I am a law student who sought work last summer with Innocence Matters; I count this as one of the best decisions of my law school career.

During my time with Innocence Matters, I personally engaged in the substantive and practical aspects of criminal defense--from interviewing witnesses to writing a habeas petition. I learned the heartbreaking results of bad lawyering and resolved to avoid a busy lawyer's common pitfalls. Innocence Matters made me a more conscientious, careful student and will surely lead to my being a better lawyer.

The preventative aspect of Innocence Matters thrills me the most. Our criminal law classes spend ample time analyzing various Innocence Projects and innocence work and I've never encountered another organization that focuses on preventing wrongful incarcerations. The importance of Innocence Matters' preventative work was thrown into sharp relief when I worked personally with an innocent person who has been wrongly incarcerated for 18 years and realized how much Innocence Matters could have helped him 18 years ago.

I was lucky enough to secure a board membership out of my summer work and plan to have a life-long connection to this great organization.

1 Jody U.

Board Member

Rating: 5

Deirdre O'Connor, Executive Director, is the heart and soul of Innocence Matters. My association with Deirdre O'Connor is four years old now. She and I met in the Emory University Toastmasters Club where we discovered several common interests that included ending oppression, especially racism and class oppression. Since then we have both left Georgia for life in other states, yet our connection persists.

Deirdre's passion for keeping eye-witness testimony bounded by known research, thus clear in its use for determining guilt in trials, influences those who hear her speak on the topic. She knows how to guide learners (law students, friends, new acquaintances) through the clinical law arena, helping many feel competent in new skills. She is fearless in approaching the possibility for precision in legal judgments.

I am pleased to be a part of the volunteer board of Innocence Matters as it grows into a well-known non-profit organization. Not only have I been able to make contributions to the creation and growth of the organization, I have come to know several fine individuals whose paths I would not have crossed otherwise. The vision of working across state lines makes Innocence Matters’ cases important where I live in South Carolina as well as anywhere else people are wrongly charged or convicted.