The Catholic University of America



John Sharifi (left) and Michael Pepson worked with students from CUA Law's Innocence
Project Clinic to win the jury acquittal of a homeless man accused of rape.


CUA Law Bands Together to Acquit Innocent Defendant


Some people believe that justice is served only to those who can afford it. Exhibit A in the argument against such cynicism is State v. Jose Mauricio, Cristobal Coreas and Jorge Ruiz, a case decided on July 1 in Montgomery County Circuit Court in which indigent defendants were acquitted by a jury with the able help of past and present students from the Columbus School of Law.   
The facts were simple enough. A homeless man, without means, was charged with rape and conspiracy to rape an elderly woman. The counts carried sentences of life imprisonment.
The public defender’s office asked John Sharifi, Class of 2002, to consider taking on the case and he agreed. Sharifi, who founded CUA Law’s Innocence Project while a student, is also an adjunct instructor in the law school.
He quickly assembled an all-CUA Law team for the defense. It included Michael Pepson, 2008, who handled all written motions, and rising 3Ls Susannah Smith (above left) and Ashley Lawson, Innocence Project participants, conducted the factual investigation.
Sharifi says dogged pre-trial investigation clearly established that the client and his two co-defendants were innocent. But the case had received some news coverage and the prosecutor declined to drop the charges despite being urged to do so.
The four-day jury trial for the three defendants began on June 28.
“There is no question that during the course of the trial, the fruits of the investigation conducted by Ms. Smith and Ms. Lawson were absolutely invaluable. There were many things they took care of to enable the trial to run smoothly, such as putting together the client's courtroom attire and dropping it off every morning,” said Sharifi.
In the end, the jury deliberated for an hour before finding the three defendants not guilty of all charges. As they exited the courthouse lobby, jurors hugged members of the defense team and thanked them for representing the three men. They asked if the accused men would be ok.

“It was a triumphant and unforgettable scene,” said Sharifi. “I commend the Innocence Project at CUA and I hope that this experience further highlights the importance of its work. Ms. Smith and Ms. Lawson truly played an integral role in the outcome of this case, which is something we should all be very proud of.”