Published: November 06, 2009
The thought of an innocent person on death row being executed brings Gretchen Cothron to tears.
“We get mad when we get a parking ticket unjustly,” Cothron ’10 said. “I can’t imagine spending years behind bars.”
UT Honors student, majoring in criminology and minoring in law and
justice, began in the field with an interest in law enforcement, but her
research on wrongful convictions and exonerations has led to a new
As a junior at UT, Cothron worked on the necessity of
recording interrogations, which isn’t required in Hillsborough County.
She gave a presentation on the topic at the National Collegiate Honors
Conference Oct. 31 in Washington, D.C.
Cothron’s work segued
into an Honors Fellowship with Dr. Sean Maddan, assistant professor and
chairman of the criminology department, researching a statistical
formula to see how eyewitness testimony, faulty forensic science and
false confessions contribute to wrongful convictions.
hopes to create a better understanding of cross-contamination, which she
says occurs when one error in the criminal process, such as a false
testimony, can lead to additional errors which can in turn lead to a
wrongful conviction of an innocent person.
“Gretchen is a good
example for students who are not just passionate about social problems,
but also attempting to do something about it through substantive
research,” Maddan said.
Cothron is working on the project with
another student and professor at Creighton University and with The
Innocence Project, a national organization that works to reform the
criminal justice system and exonerate wrongfully convicted people based
on DNA testing.
Cothron has presented her preliminary findings
at the Southern Criminal Justice Association’s annual conference and is
presenting an extension of the same project at the American Society of
Criminology's annual meeting in November. She credits UT faculty for the
opportunities she’s been given for conference presentations, surprising
herself at the level she’s reaching.
“At most of these
conferences, I’m the only one there who isn’t a grad student or lawyer,
and I’m presenting,” she said adding that most of the research in this
area is conducted by lawyers and law students. “It’s going to be good
for me academically, but there’s not enough being done on this issue.”
hopes to practice criminal appellate law after law school to help fund
her real passion, a nonprofit she has formed called Screaming for
Sunshine to assist with investigations of wrongful convictions.
“Florida leads the nation in the number of death-row exonerations,” Cothron said, “and there has to be countless others.”
prisoners is pro-bono work and involves countless hours of research,
whittling down the evidence. It’s what Cothron lives for.
bookworm. I like the research and the end result, it brings you to
tears,” she said. “But I love it. I’d rather read a case over than go to
For more on her nonprofit, go to
Jamie Pilarczyk, Web Writer
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