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Idaho Innocence Project scrambles for funding

Sarah Pearce, a young Idaho woman convicted of murder in 2003 in what may be a case of mistaken identity, has a key hearing coming up in February that could win her a new trial. Christopher Tapp, convicted in 1996 of an Idaho Falls murder in which DNA points to a different perpetrator, has the victim’s mother among his advocates, seeking to free him and find the real killer.

But the Idaho Innocence Project, which has worked on both cases for at least five years, learned this month that its federal grant funding won’t be renewed. The project, housed at Boise State University, will continue to work on both those cases, but won’t take any more. “We haven’t left anybody high and dry, but there are other prisoners writing us, and I’m sending out form letters saying our intake is on hold,” said project Director Greg Hampikian, a Boise State University professor of biology and criminal justice and a DNA expert. “Every week, I get calls from the mothers.”

The Idaho Innocence Project was awarded two multi-year grants from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Wrongful Conviction Review Program, in 2009 and 2011, for work to represent people who potentially have been wrongfully convicted. Those grants, totaling nearly $450,000, allowed the hiring of a staff attorney and legal assistants; law students and others also participate. But this year, when the project applied for the next round of grants, 38 groups applied and just eight were accepted, and BSU wasn’t among them.

“I’m busy trying to find out where I can get funding,” Hampikian said. The project receives some foundation donations and does some fundraising. It gets no state funds; a portion of its fundraising goes to BSU to cover indirect costs such as use of university office space. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.


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Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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