“Hello Truth” has meaning for Robert McClendon, DDC’s (DNA Diagnostics Center) first Innocence Network exoneree who was freed through forensic DNA testing in 2008. Even more so after the April 10, 2011, DDC Forensics unveiling of DDC’s newly named DNA analyzer, “Hello Truth,” in honor of McClendon and his poem by the same name. Just prior to the surprise unveiling, McClendon recounted his first-person story to the many guests attending the tour of DDC Forensics as part of the 2011 Innocence Network Conference held in Cincinnati, Ohio, the first gathering of international delegates and exonerees from around the United States.
Japan, Norway, Chile, India, Ireland, Australia, Pakistan, Canada, Poland, South Africa, Nigeria, China, Switzerland, The Netherlands, England and Singapore were among the countries represented on the tour that included DDC’s laboratory and a workshop on forensic DNA evidence. The workshop focused on DNA evidence when used in post-conviction cases and how it will eventually be reviewed based on the law. Attendees were interested in learning how to partner with a laboratory, how to ensure DNA evidence presented in court meets legal requirements and what unique testing DDC has to offer.
“For many attendees this was the first time they have toured an actual DNA testing lab,” Mark Godsey, director, Rosenthal Institute for Justice/Ohio Innocence Project, said. “DDC has two of the top DNA Experts in the world in Dr. Michael Baird and Dr. Julie Heinig and it’s unique to have DNA experts, legal experts with the Ohio Innocence Project and someone actually freed all in one place. To hear first-hand Robert’s experience and how he continues to fight to raise awareness was very moving for everyone.”
According to Dr. Michael Baird, DDC’s chief scientific officer, “It was remarkable to see how riveted the attendees were to hear Mr. McClendon’s story first-hand through his poem, ‘Hello Truth,’ and to see the surprise on his face as the white veil was pulled away to show that we’ve named the DNA analyzer in his honor. He even asked to kiss the machine. Most of the attendees were quite knowledgeable about DNA and were interested in techniques that we perform that are not yet available in other countries, while others were discussing starting up programs for the first time in their own countries. It puts into perspective how important the work we do here at DDC truly is.”
McClendon gave credit to the legal staff at the University of Cincinnati, the Ohio Innocence Project and the DDC experts who worked his case to find the evidence that proved he was innocent. BET (Black Entertainment Television) is currently filming a documentary on McClendon and was present for the unveiling and naming.
“It was a privilege to host such a distinguished group of international representatives who are fighting for those who are wrongfully incarcerated around the world,” Dr. Julie Heinig, assistant laboratory director, said. “Approximately 70 percent of the Innocence Network Organization’s successful exonerations are due to DNA evidence. To witness Mr. McClendon’s emotional recount of his journey, and for him to unveil the newly named DNA analyzer provided an incredible opportunity for these Innocence Network leaders to know this kind of experience is possible for their countries. It was very rewarding.”
DDC’s DNA testing has resulted in four high-profile exonerations connected to the Innocence Network Organization since 2008. The most recent being that of Derrick Williams, freed in a ruling on April 4, 2011 after being wrongfully incarcerated in a Florida prison for 18 years.