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Outlook 2020: 'I was able to see firsthand the disparity in representation,' Vicki Behenna says

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Vicki Behenna
Vicki Behenna

Vicki Behenna sought justice for her son Michael for more than a decade.

Along the way, she realized seeking justice for the wrongly convicted was her calling.

After 25 years in the U.S. attorney’s office — she helped prosecute Timothy McVeigh — she resigned in 2013 and became the executive director of The Oklahoma Innocence Project in 2015.

In May 2019, her son was granted a full pardon after having been convicted by a military court in 2009 for killing an Iraqi prisoner. He initially was sentenced to 25 years, released on parole after five, then pardoned five years after that.

Vicki Behenna never stopped fighting for that exoneration.

“Obviously, that was the moving force for me to go and start doing this. But you know … I was able to see firsthand the disparity in representation based upon people who could afford lawyers and people who could not. When I first started out in the criminal justice system, well, it was the best system in the world. It’s perfect. Everybody ought to do what we do. And then you see things and hear things, and you start thinking, ‘Well … '

“It is a good system. But we’ve just got to recognize it’s not perfect.

“Look, I don’t come from a wealthy family. I was the second person in my family ever to go to college, first person ever to go to law school. I emphasize that when I talk to high school students and college students because I want them to understand that you can do anything. You can make a change.

“I talk to them about this attitude that our justice system is perfect, and we always get it right. We need to question that. Anytime human beings are involved in a process, we’re going to make mistakes. We have to realize that. We have to realize that mistakes happen. We have to be open to be able to look at decisions we’ve made in the past and maybe do something to correct a wrong."

Jenni Carlson

Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football... Read more ›