Society / Justice and Law

Justice is Served

Written by Katherine Hedland Hansen, School of Law

September 29, 2014

Exterior of the Sullivan Law School

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A law school clinic helps secure reparations for a man in Mexico who was unjustly imprisoned.

The Mexican government officially apologized to a man who was unjustly imprisoned for 12 years and was freed through the work of the law school's International Human Rights Clinic. 

The clinic signed a settlement agreement with the Mexican Government on behalf of 66-year-old AnanĂ­as Laparra, who was tortured into confessing to a crime he did not commit. Chiapas Gov. Manuel Velasco Coello (pictured, right, with Laparra) and other high-ranking state and federal officials publicly apologized to Laparra and family members - who were also tortured - and recognized his innocence. 

The settlement will clear his criminal record, as well as provide economic compensation, medical/psychological rehabilitation, scholarships for his children, legislative reform and prosecution efforts. 

Professor Tom Antkowiak with co-counsel Alejandra Gonza and his former student Garrett Oppenheim "These negotiations took a lot of time and effort, and I am grateful to my students and colleagues for their key contributions," said Professor Tom Antkowiak, who directs the International Human Rights Clinic. "We obtained the reparations that our clients wanted and deserved, and hopefully he and his family can finally begin to heal." 

Co-counsel Alejandra Gonza was in Mexico for the ceremony. The public apology was front-page news in the state's two largest newspapers, which called it "a national precedent for the respect of human rights." 

Many students from the law school have worked on the case in the past six years. In 2008, Antkowiak and his clinic students began international litigation, which included students drafting a petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington, D.C. 

The commission eventually ordered the State of Mexico to improve Laparra's detention conditions and medical treatment. The clinic then leveraged the international decision against government authorities, which released him in 2012. 

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