March 2014 Bar Bulletin
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Profile / Jackie McMurtrie

Guardian of the Innocent

By Toby J. Marshall and Matthew J. Zuchetto

 

Jacqueline ("Jackie") McMurtrie stood next to her client, Paul Statler, and squeezed his hand as Spokane Superior Court Judge Michael Price issued a ruling. Three years earlier, Statler had been convicted of armed robbery and sentenced to 41 years in prison. He was only 23 at the time, and he was innocent.

When the conviction was upheld on appeal and his hope had nearly faded away, Statler turned to McMurtrie and the Innocence Project Northwest (IPNW) for help. The only resource of its kind in Washington, the IPNW provides legal and investigative services to individuals seeking to prove their innocence. The prosecution's case against Statler and two of his friends was almost entirely based on the testimony of a single witness, a 17-year-old boy who was promised leniency on other charges. Through their efforts, the IPNW team uncovered substantial evidence showing that Statler and his friends were innocent.

On December 14, 2012, Judge Price overturned the convictions and ordered the immediate release of all three men. After more than 4½ years of incarceration, Statler was free to go home. The sense of relief in the room was palpable as Statler and McMurtrie turned to see overjoyed family members both smiling and weeping. "To have everyone in court to hear the judge's ruling was one of the most profound moments in my career," McMurtrie said after the ruling.1

McMurtrie founded the IPNW in 1997. At the time, it was only the third project of its kind in the United States. There are now more than 75 such projects, most of which are members of the Innocence Network, an association McMurtrie helped co-found in 2005. Through her vision and dedication, McMurtrie has grown the IPNW into a prestigious clinical program of the University of Washington School of Law. To date, the IPNW's work has resulted in the complete exonerations of 13 individuals, four of which were based on DNA evidence; the release of several other prisoners; the passage of a wrongful-conviction compensation statute; and the mentoring of more than 150 law students.

In November, the ACLU of Washington presented McMurtrie with the William O. Douglas Award, a lifetime achievement award that recognizes outstanding contributions to the cause of civil liberties. Kathleen Taylor, the director of the ACLU-WA, says the organization selected McMurtrie for the honor based on "her nearly 20 years of devotion to the pursuit of justice on behalf of individuals wrongly convicted and imprisoned in Washington."

McMurtrie's path to public service started in the lower peninsula of Michigan, where she was born and raised. After high school, McMurtrie attended the University of Michigan, obtaining an undergraduate degree that centered on political science, women's studies and psychology.

Two classes, one on constitutional law and another on women in the law, piqued her interest in a legal career. McMurtrie went on to attend the University of Michigan Law School, but first took time off to travel with a friend down the Pacific Coast from Astoria to Quito, Ecuador, before returning to her home state and working for a while to save up money.


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