In December of 2017, attorney Deirdre Enright delivered the Seton Lecture at Portsmouth Abbey. Professor Enright is director of the University of Virginia School of Law Innocence Project and an associate professor of law.
Professor Enright’s client Rojai Fentress joined the conversation via phone from Augusta Correctional Center. Professor Enright’s stories and Mr. Fentress’s words and poetry moved the audience, and their visit left a lasting impression. For the Human Rights Club, Ms. Enright’s descriptions of wrongful incarceration, along with Mr. Fentress's reports of prison life, prompted many subsequent discussions about the complexities of the justice system and the industrial prison structure.
On May 19, 2020, students and faculty took the opportunity to visit with Ms. Enright and Mr. Fentress over Zoom and catch up on the details of his case. Due to recent changes in Virginia law and a pending request for a pardon from the Governor, it's possible that Mr. Fentress will be released soon. A pardon from the Governor of Virginia could be based on his innocence, but the statutory remedy is connected to his age at the time of his conviction and not his innocence. Even after he is out of prison, The Innocence Project will continue to lobby for his exoneration. During the conversation, Ms. Enright discussed the challenges facing newly released prisoners, and Mr. Fentress spoke of what his hopes and concerns were around his release. One of his greatest concerns is the care of his mother and sister, who were homeless for much of last winter.
Read more about the work of UVA’s Innocence Project and Mr. Fetnress’s case here