Wrongful convictions occur far too often in our criminal justice system, so the Ohio Innocence Project is teaming up with the Cincinnati Opera and the Young Professionals Choral Collective to collaborate on a new project.
The opera Blind Injustice, named after UC Law Professor and OIP Director Mark Godsey’s book by the same name, will debut in June 2019. It will detail the stories and range of emotions experienced by six men and women — all of whom were wrongly convicted and later exonerated as a result of OIP’s dedication to the truth.
“The stories of these six exonerees are powerful tales of perseverance and forgiveness after going through an ordeal most of us can’t even imagine,” Godsey says.
The stories included are: Rickey Jackson, who spent 40 years in prison and was sentenced to death prior to being exonerated for a murder he did not commit; Clarence Elkins, who spent 7.5 years behind bars after being wrongly convicted of rape and murder; Nancy Smith, who was in prison for 15 years as a result of invalid molestation charges; and the East Cleveland 3 — Derrick Wheatt, Laurese Glover and Eugene Johnson — who each spent 20 years in prison prior to a key eyewitness’ recanting of testimony.
According to Marcus Küchle, director of artistic operations and new work development for the Opera, opera is an ideal medium to convey the exonerees’ powerful emotions. “The general public is likely not aware of the extent of this problem. And if they are aware that wrongful convictions occur with not insignificant frequency, then it may be compartmentalized as ‘cost of doing business’ or ‘unfortunate collateral damage’ in the process of keeping society safe. But there is a steep human cost to it. It comes with feelings of being terrified for one’s life, an indescribable feeling of love and longing for family and friends who are literally out of reach and unable to help.”
The OIP will also be represented in Blind Injustice through the lens of two characters — one of which represents Godsey in the early days of his career as a prosecutor and now as an innocence lawyer, and another that will represent OIP law students.
“Cincinnati Opera is looking for innovative ways to collaborate with nontraditional partner organizations in an authentic way to tell current stories of societal importance,” says Küchle. “We are keenly interested in breaking through the stereotypes of what opera is in the 21st century, and this project is a perfect example of the type of new works Cincinnati Opera will pursue in future seasons.”