Innocence Project Staffer Serves as Freedom’s Gatekeeper


The Christian Science Monitor profiles Huy Dao, case director of New York’s Innocence Project, a 15-year-old nonprofit that recently won its 205th exoneration of an innocent prisoner. Dao serves as gatekeeper for the organization, screening the inmate pleas it receives. Politicized, angered by societal injustice, and fresh out of Cornell University in 1997, Dao figured that if he was going to work for peanuts, he didn’t want to be getting someone’s coffee. So he took a job delivering freedom.

His job is to read the mail, thousands of heart-wrenching stories from convicted criminals serving long, or life, sentences – or even sitting on death row. Penned in quasi-calligraphy or pecked out on old typewriters, sent on everything from personal letterhead to toilet paper, pleas can be as simple as, “Help me, I’m innocent,” or as complex as a 35-page handwritten life story. Sometimes they’re accompanied by biological samples or gifts as strange as a mail-order bride catalog with a Japanese DNA biologist circled.


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