For Professor Jennifer Kinsley, the pursuit of justice for a pro bono client caught in a web of sex trafficking began six years ago. It ended in a grocery store.
“I found out earlier today – actually while in the grocery store - that my client, Alexis Martin, will receive a full commutation of her life sentence from [Ohio] Governor Mike DeWine and will be released from prison. This is truly the best day of my professional career,” Professor Kinsley told faculty members in an email this past Friday.
Professor Kinsley had pursued appeals to the Ohio Supreme Court and the Ohio Parole Board on behalf of Ms. Martin, who as a juvenile had pleaded guilty in adult court to charges related to the murder of her trafficker. Professor Kinsley’s argument: A juvenile court should have applied a state law that protects children whose crimes are related to being trafficking victims. Had that happened, a court-appointed guardian would have investigated Ms. Martin’s history of prostitution as a juvenile. Instead, she was sentenced to 22 years to life in prison.
“Alexis was the victim of horrifying and prolonged human trafficking beginning at the age of 14 and, at age 15, was tried as an adult for the robbery and murder of her trafficker and attempted murder of his brother. Alexis was not the shooter; in fact, she was literally being raped by the brother, a 37-year-old man, at the time he was shot,” Professor Kinsley wrote.
“Although the signs of her trafficking were everywhere, neither the court nor her attorney took her victimization into account in the disposition of the case, and she was sentenced to 22 years to life in prison. When I met Alexis, she was a scared, wounded, traumatized 15-year-old, and she has now blossomed into a strong, smart, beautiful survivor, ready to live her best life.”
As part of her pursuit of the case, Professor Kinsley had the support of other Chase professors and a student. Professors Amy Halbrook and Sharlene Boltz applied their expertise in relevant issues in expert-opinion letters to the parole board, Professor David Singleton, who is also executive director of the Ohio Justice & Policy Center, provided a critical connection to a center lawyer, and student Rachel Wilhite worked on discovery in the post-conviction case.
For Professor Kinsley, the commutation also carries a message for law students and lawyers:
“I am reminded today of the power we as lawyers have to work for the good and to transform lives,” she wrote. “There is no greater use of our time and talents than the relentless service of others. Our adversarial system of justice can be stressful, isolating and exhausting, and at times it can feel as though the mountain is too big to climb. It is tempting to wonder if our struggles matter. Alexis reminds me that they most definitely do. To give this amazing woman her life back is the greatest gift of all.”