Tuesday, June 30, 2009


Dennis Fritz Author of Journey Toward Justice"

In a way, Brett Behenna wishes he did not have to do what he is about to do.
The Edmond native will join other Oklahomans in support of family members they believe were wrongfully convicted during the state’s inaugural Freedom March, which will begin at 10 a.m. Saturday on the south steps of the state Capitol.

Other events will occur concurrently around the country.
During the local event, supporters will march along a route that will take them south from the Capitol on Lincoln Boulevard to 18th Street across the mall and north on Lincoln back to the steps. Then Behenna will speak about his brother.
On March 20, Army Ranger 1st Lt. Michael Behenna was sentenced to 25 years in prison for killing an Iraqi detainee while serving in Iraq. The soldier maintains that he acted in self defense. Government prosecutors said it was premeditated murder.
The jury did not get to hear from an expert witness who would have corroborated Behenna’s testimony. Family members are seeking a new trial. Meanwhile, Behenna is incarcerated at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.

Brett Behenna, a 2003 graduate of Edmond North High School who is studying law at the University of Oklahoma, said this type of public speaking will be a new experience for him, but law school has prepared him for it.
Brett said his mother, federal prosecutor Vicki Behenna, of Edmond, an adjunct law professor at the Oklahoma City University Law School, told him about the march. She was asked to participate, but had plans to visit Michael in Kansas this weekend.
“I’m nervous, but I wrote the speech,” Brett said.
Brett said during his speech he will tell Michael’s story, talk about the reason for the event, the fight for justice and how the outcome of each trial should serve justice.

Brett said he and Michael are close, that they have grown to depend on one another. Now it’s his turn to help his brother.
“I hope it’s a big turnout,” he said. “I hope to convince people that Michael’s story is one worth telling and to build support for his cause.”
Local organizer Sherri Heath said the march was organized to raise awareness about the issue of wrongful convictions.
Heath said she has met a lot of families who feel like their loved one was wrongfully convicted through the Raye Dawn Smith case. Heath is co-director of Raye of Hope, an organization that seeks to give wrongfully convicted inmates a voice.

“No one seems to listen about wrongful convictions — lawmakers mainly, judges, the governor, the public,” Heath said, noting that some legislators are aware of the problem. “There are wrongful convictions. There are prisoners who have problems. But they’re not sure what to do.”
Also, some prosecutors in Oklahoma, who are elected, like to win their cases, Heath said.
Furthermore, sometimes lawmakers don’t want to appear to be “soft on crime,” Heath said. One goal of the movement is to replace that attitude with being “smart on crime,” she said.
“We’re trying to get the ones who can change things to actually stand up and do what’s right,” Heath said.
Another issue is the emotional and financial affects of wrongful convictions on family members, Heath said. The average cost to convince the court of a wrongful conviction is $200,000-$300,000, she said.
Often, the wrongfully convicted are first-time offenders not savvy about the system, Heath said.

Raye of Hope
Other speakers will include Dennis Fritz, Author of Gayla Smith, mother of Raye Dawn Smith, and Jim Rowan, chairman of the Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.
Gayla Smith believes her daughter was wrongfully convicted in the much-publicized case involving her 2-year-old daughter, Kelsey Smith-Briggs.
In October 2005, Kelsey died from blunt force abdominal trauma and a jury convicted her stepfather, Michael Lee Porter, of enabling child abuse by injury. Porter was sentenced to 30 years in prison. Raye Dawn Smith is serving a 27-year sentence for enabling child abuse.
Gayla Smith contends her daughter was convicted in an unfair trial by a biased jury.
Gayla lost her father to cancer in 2003, her husband to cancer in 2004, her grandmother in 2005, her granddaughter to murder also that same year and her daughter to a wrongful conviction.
Gayla said children are raised to trust in the legal system, but individuals can be accused of anything, and it can happen to anyone.
“Once the allegation is made, it’s up to you to prove that it didn’t happen,” Gayla said.
Laura Hipperson said she traveled from London to support Raye Dawn Smith and the Freedom March. Several years ago, Hipperson heard Raye Dawn’s story. Hipperson said she researched the facts and found parts of it didn’t ring true. Source - Mark Schlachtenhaufen
The Edmond Sun
On June 27, 2009 people marched for freedom of the wrongfully convicted around the country. This is one of the news clips from the Oklahoma march. Video is from KOCO Channel Five in Oklahoma City

More On Author Dennis Fritz and His Book, "Journey Toward Justice" CLICK HERE

Praise For The Book "Journey Toward Justice" - From John Grisham
The story of the unwarranted prosecution and wrongful conviction of Dennis Fritz is compelling and fascinating. After serving eleven years for a murder he did not commit, Dennis was exonerated and had the strength and courage to put his life back together. - - John Grisham