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WV Innocence Project leads to man’s release

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Students participating in the West Virginia Innocence Project at West Virginia University’s College of Law led to the release of a man convicted of first-degree murder and sexual assault based on faulty forensic evidence.

Kenneth Manns spent 18 years behind bars for the Mercer County murder before WVIP students obtained a re-sentencing and lesser sentence for Manns, making him immediately eligible for parole. Manns was released in July, becoming the WVIP’s first client to be granted parole.

“With perseverance, our law students worked with our criminal justice system to get to the right result,” said Valena Beety, associate professor of law and director of the WVIP. “This man was serving life in prison, and now he is in the process of going home to be with his family and son, thanks to everyone’s hard work.”

WVU Law students and alumni Ashley Joseph, David Estep, Andrew Vodden and Kelli Ganz spent the last two years researching and investigating the case, and representing Manns in court. The group worked closely with WVIP Legal Fellow Kristen McKeon and was supervised by Beety and attorney Melissa Giggenbach. WVU rising senior and criminology major Quenton King assisted.

“It was incredible knowing that the work our team did led to an innocent man getting to go home,” Vodden said. “This is why we worked so hard all year long — to get this man out of prison and home with his family.

“He has already secured employment, knows where he is going to live, and has plans to attend classes to become a paralegal.”

Estep said he hopes this case will spread awareness about instances of injustice and that other individuals in similar situations will seek out the help to which they are entitled.

“(His) parole is only the beginning for the West Virginia Innocence Project,” he said. “Our criminal justice system is made up of humans, and sometimes humans make mistakes.

“Though they are only mistakes, these mistakes cost people their lives and their livelihoods, and to have an organization to act as a check on that system is both important and necessary.”

The WVIP is part of the Clinical Law Program at the WVU College of Law. It provides free legal representation to individuals who have meritorious claims of wrongful conviction. 

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