Photo - Dennis Fritz and Chief Justice David Gilbertson
South Dakota is one of six states that does not have a legislative bill passed for the availability of post-conviction DNA testing.
On February 11, 2009, Dennis Fritz, along with Professor of Law at the University of South Dakota, Christine Hutton, traveled to Pierre—the Capitol of S.D.— to present a bill to the House committee for post-conviction DNA testing. Law students, LaRae Hancock and McLean Thompson ( from U.S.D. ) accompanied the Professor and Mr. Fritz— whereby extending their lobbying support.
Professor Hutton, who authored her own revision of the existent DNA bill, that was vetoed back in 2003, introduced Dennis Fritz—one of the two main characters in John Grishams’ The Innocent Man, and author of his own book, Journey Toward Justice.
Mr. Fritz immediately captured the attention of every House committee member. In a very deliberate and serious tone of voice, Mr. Fritz spoke to the committee members about the human side of his own tragic experience. As such, Dennis was denied DNA testing by the Oklahoma courts throughout his 12 year, wrongful incarceration.
Each House member listened intently as Mr. Fritz continued with his spell binding descriptions, of the enormous pain and suffering that he and his family had went through.
When Mr. Fritz had concluded his presentation, the looks on the House members’ faces clearly showed that they were greatly moved by his words.
Next, Mr. Fritz yielded the floor back to Professor Hutton, who went into detail about the strengths of her proposed DNA bill. Christine spoke to the committee members with an air of confidence and boldness. She keenly presented each feature of her 1 page DNA bill. Her clever delivery was to the point and matter of fact. The individual House members soaked in every word that Professor Hutton said. No one in the almost-full audience, dared to make a sound.
It went without saying, that the House members were in full agreement with the Professor. Yes, South Dakota DID need a DNA bill which would provide, that anyone claiming their innocence— who met certain specific guidelines—would be granted the long, sought after DNA testing. Sure enough!
After the opposition took their turn in attempting to argue the merits of Professor Hutton’s DNA bill, the House committed responded by delivering their own verbal discussions. Yea! Every House committee member voted to allow the proposed DNA bill to pass onward to the floor on the following day. Before leaving the Capitol building, Mr. Fritz and his group was introduced to Chief Justice David Gilbertson, in his chambers.
The Chief Justice was such a intelligent and wonderful, down-to-earth human being. He took great pleasure in welcoming us. Thereafter, the Chief Justice himself gave the assembled group a dynamic tour of the Appellate Court where he now presides. The courtroom was nothing short of a work of art, as to its crafted, flowing architecture displaying the legal themes within. What a day to remember.
After a couple of weeks went by, the long-awaited news had finally come. The House of Representatives passed the DNA bill through its legislature. Wooow! What a victory this was. Now, before the DNA bill could go into law, it will have to pass the Senate also by a majority vote. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.
This was a huge step forward for every innocent person that is incarcerated, not only in the state of South Dakota, but everywhere across our strong and unified nation.
PHOTOS OF EVENT HERE