Young thespian plays key role in wrongful convictions conference.
Jeanine Bell (S90) is an aspiring actress who found herself in an
activist role. It may be her starring performance to date - certainly
in the estimation of law professor Lawrence Marshall (L85).
He chose Bell to coordinate the first National Conference on
Wrongful Convictions and the Death Penalty, held Nov. 13-15
at the Northwestern University School of Law.
"She worked with astonishing intensity,"Marshall says. "Her
diligence and dedication made the conference possible."
Over an 11-month period, Bell tracked down almost all of the
74 people who have been wrongfully sentenced to death since capital
punishment was allowed to be reinstated in 1976 and invited them to
participate in the conference. Thirty-one accepted.
Hers wasn't an easy job. Bell pored over every telephone
directory in the state of Ohio, for instance, to locate just one man. In
addition to sifting through phone books, she and a small team of
students searched news archives, contacted distant relatives and
sent blind letters.
"There were so many of them [former prisoners],"Bell says.
"We found out that some were deceased. Some had taken their own
And not everyone was thrilled to hear from her. "A few told me
right away that they were trying to forget about that part of their
lives and had moved into a new life where nobody knew anything
about their past ordeal."
Bell got involved with the wrongful conviction cause almost by
accident. While pursuing her acting career, she took a temporary
secretarial assignment in Marshall's office. Swept up in his crusade
to save the life
of death row inmate Rolando Cruz, who was incarcerated in Illinois,
Bell put her acting career on hold. Instead, she devoted herself to
sorting through the reams of
documents that would eventually contribute to proving Cruz's
A year after Bell left Marshall's office, he asked her to coordinate
the conference. Shortly after the event, Bell was cast in
a play. For her long-term future, she is figuring out a means of
melding theater and social activism.
"What I realized is
I need to find a way to continue to do both,"she says. "These are two
totally different areas of
my life I am passionate about." - L.A.