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Criminal Justice Reform Clinic Students Help Exonerate Oregon Man

January 14, 2020

On Tuesday, December 17, 2019, Nick McGuffin was able to walk out of prison after nine years as a free man. Since 2015, Lewis & Clark Law School Criminal Justice Reform Clinic (CJRC) students have been involved in the case to have McGuffin’s case overturned due to exculpatory DNA testing, first working with the Oregon Innocence Project in the early years of the case and more recently with the Forensic Justice Project, a nonprofit dedicated to helping defense lawyers understand, find, and challenge scientific evidence introduced during trial. 

CJRC students worked closely with Forensic Justice Project’s executive director Janis Puracal and lead attorney of the case, to obtain a post-conviction relief order on November 29, 2019. The Attorney General chose not to appeal the decision and the Coos County District Attorney dismissed all charges against McGuffin.  The post-conviction relief order was issued because of the failure of the state to hand over exculpatory DNA testing at McGuffin’s trial. The DNA testing had revealed an unidentified male DNA on the victim’s shoe. However, at trial when asked whether there was any DNA found at the crime scene aside from the victim’s and the detective’s, the lab analyst said no. 

In an interview with KPTV McGuffin told reporters, “it is one of the better days that I’ve had in the last nine years. I am happy to go home to my daughter and family.”

Several students were involved in making the case to exonerate McGuffin over a number of years including: Joe Muldavin (’18), Amy Saack (’17), Ann Marie Schott (’17), Zach Winston (’16) and over the last year, Caitlin Skurky (’20) working directly with the Forensic Justice Project. 

Caitlin Skurky (’20) described the impact, saying “working on Mr. McGuffin’s case has been one of the most rewarding and educational experiences of my life, and has been instrumental in shaping my understanding of issues within the legal system. Watching Mr. McGuffin walk out of prison, after more than nine years of wrongful incarceration, will forever be one of the most emotionally significant moments of my life.”

Professor and CJRC Director Aliza Kaplan added, “I am thrilled that Nick was home with his family in time for Christmas and that his wrongful conviction has been overturned.” 

“I couldn’t have ever done it without the people next to me,” McGuffin said. “The people who believed in me – never stopped believing in me and continued to work as hard as they did.”

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