After 16 Years in Prison, WashULaw Wrongful Conviction Clinic Secures St. Louisan Parole

“When I wrote, I wasn’t in prison anymore. When I picked up that pen and that pad … I was free.”

-James Thomas, WashULaw Clinic Client

In 2007, 17-year-old James Thomas was convicted of felony murder in a burglary gone wrong. The murder had actually been committed by his older brother, a felon who’d recently been released at the time. James was sentenced to life in prison.

15 years later, attorney Megan Crane of the MacArthur Justice Center and co-director of our Wrongful Conviction Clinic, learned of James’ case. Since beginning his sentence, he had earned his GED, written a book of poetry and multiple screenplays, and maintained a near-spotless record. She took on James’ case with a team of student lawyers, including Shannon Lin (JD ’22), Madeleine Denny (JD ’22), and Paul Luhmann (JD ’22). They spent months honing their legal strategy, culminating in a presentation to the Missouri Parole Board in 2022.

This July, after nearly 16 years in prison, the Wrongful Conviction Clinic received word that James, now 31, had been granted parole. Listen to his story of freedom and a life reclaimed in his own words.

The Wrongful Conviction Clinic is just one of our 19 acclaimed legal clinics and externships. Through our clinical education program, we provide quality pro bono legal representation to clients who cannot otherwise afford it. Launched in 1973, we are proud to celebrate the program’s 50th anniversary this year. More than 90% of WashULaw students participate in our clinical programs, making a meaningful difference in St. Louis and becoming better attorneys in the process.