Proving Innocence

Psychology Alumnus Chris Martinez Is Volunteer Attorney for Rocky Mountain Innocence Center

In 1994, Debra Brown was arrested and charged with aggravated murder in the death of her friend and employer, Lael Brown. She was convicted of murder in 1995. She was found “factually innocent” in 2011, after spending 17 years in prison. Weber State University alumnus Chris Martinez was among the volunteer attorneys representing Brown through the Rocky Mountain Innocence Center (RMIC), a nonprofit organization that, according to its website, “works to correct and prevent the conviction of innocent people.”

Brown was the first person to be exonerated under Utah’s non-DNA factual innocence statute, which RMIC helped develop and pass in 2008. Non-DNA factual innocence has to be proven using methods other than DNA tests because biological evidence at the scene has been destroyed, lost or is non-existent.

Martinez, who graduated with a degree in psychology in 2003, currently serves on the RMIC board of directors. 
RMIC serves people in Utah, Wyoming and Nevada, providing the opportunity for students and local attorneys to gain law experience while helping to free individuals who have been wrongfully convicted. The group also advocates reforms for the justice system and educates people about the causes and consequences of wrongful conviction.

According to the RMIC website, there is a 3 to 6 percent error rate in the nationwide criminal justice system, meaning that thousands of Americans may have been wrongfully convicted. The organization estimates there are hundreds of innocent people imprisoned in Utah, Nevada and Wyoming alone.

In addition to his work with RMIC, Martinez has also served on the board of directors for the Children’s Service Society, a nonprofit organization that provides help and resources to troubled families. The society’s flagship program is a 10-week counseling and education program for grandparents raising their grandchildren.

Martinez said WSU was the perfect place to get his undergraduate degree. The university’s flexibility allowed him to keep working full time even while attending school. His professors were engaged and took a genuine interest in his life, helping him gain the confidence to go to law school.

“The education I received prepared me well for law school,” Martinez said. “But more importantly, my experience at Weber State University helped me develop the confidence I needed to accomplish more than what I previously had thought possible.”

Martinez said he enjoyed the small classes and the individual attention he received from his professors while he studied at WSU. “I developed friendships with my professors that I still maintain today,” he said.

The professor who helped him the most was psychology professor Joseph Horvat. “His abnormal psychology class was very interesting and entertaining,” Martinez said. “Dr. Horvat motivated me to apply to law school.”

Martinez pursued that goal and graduated from the University of Arizona College of Law in 2006. Today, he is an attorney with Dorsey & Whitney LLP. He is married to a fellow Wildcat and has two wonderful children (well, mostly wonderful, he said jokingly). In his spare time he reads avidly and camps and hikes with his family, especially in southeastern Utah. He likes golfing with his children and his own father and playing card games, especially Texas Hold ’Em. And WSU still holds a special place in his heart.

“The classes were interesting and the education was exceptional,” said Martinez. “I will stack up the education I received at Weber State University against anyone else’s.”