Sean O'Brien, recognized as a leading authority on wrongly-convicted prison inmates, will speak in Chillicothe at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, March 12, as part of the One Read Program presented by the Friends of Livingston County Library. The program will be at the Livingston County Library.
O'Brien, a full-time professor at UMKC School of Law and director with the Midwest Innocence Project, has spent the last 20 years working to free innocent people from prison. As president of the Public Interest Litigation Clinic, O'Brien represents death row inmates and provides specialized training for lawyers defending death cases. He has successfully fought for the discharge and exoneration of several prisoners after establishing their innocence.
One of his clients, Dale Helmig, was freed last August after a judge ruled that Helmig was innocent, had not received a fair trial, and should be released. O'Brien spent 14 years fighting for Helmig's freedom. Another client, Joseph Amrine, was the 111th person freed from death row in the United States when he was released from prison in 2003. To date, 142 death-sentenced inmates have established their innocence and been released from death row.
O'Brien also represented Faye Copeland, who, along with her husband Ray, had been convicted and sentenced to death for the murders of five transients at their Livingston County farm. O'Brien succeeded in having Copeland's sentence commuted to life in prison. She died in a nursing home in 2002 while on a medical leave.
O'Brien has been the recipient of numerous awards, including the Kansas City Metropolitan Bar Association Lifetime Achievement Award, the Missouri Weekly Lawyer of the Year Award and the ACLU Civil Liberties Award. He also won the prestigious Ross Essay contest sponsored by the American Bar Association
It is particularly fitting that O'Brien will be speaking, as he has been compared to Atticus Finch, from “To Kill a Mockingbird,” the book chosen as this year's selection for the One Read Program. Defending her father, who had been attacked by a woman for the people he represents, 11-year-old Quinn O'Brien recited a line from the book in which Atticus Finch is described as one who is put on this earth to do things no one else wants to do. “And my dad is one of them,” Quinn O'Brien said. Now, 29, Quinn works as an investigator in her father's office.
The public is invited to attend O'Brien's presentation, which will be at the Livingston County Library. Refreshments will be provided by the Friends of the Library.
There is no charge for the event. For more information contact Friends of the Library President Kris Daniel, 247-0154 or Library Director Robin Westphal, 646-0547.