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Wrongful Conviction 2015


Speaker(s): Karen A. Newirth, Paul Casteleiro, Vanessa Potkin
Recorded on: Nov. 2, 2015
PLI Program #: 157643

Paul Casteleiro is Legal Director at Centurion Ministries (CM), a Princeton, New Jersey based non-profit organization focused exclusively on freeing innocent and wrongfully convicted and imprisoned individuals. CM, founded in 1983, is recognized as the pioneer in the field of innocence work specializing in reinvestigating and freeing factually innocent people in both the United States and Canada. Mr. Casteleiro is an experienced criminal trial and appellate attorney who managed his own law practice in Hoboken, New Jersey for 36 years. During that time he helped free from prison and exonerate eleven individuals while working with Centurion Ministries, including two individuals whose murder convictions were reversed, then retried and acquitted. Independent of CM in his own law practice he helped to free and exonerate four other individuals.

In 2014 Mr. Casteleiro closed his law practice and joined Centurion Ministries fulltime as its Legal Director.

Mr. Casteleiro received his law degree from Rutgers School of Law, and during his law school years he clerked for Morton Stavis, Esq., a noted civil rights attorney and one of the founders of the Center for Constitutional Rights. He was a Public Defender in New Jersey for three years and an attorney with the New York Legal Aid Society for one year before going into private practice.


Karen A. Newirth is the Senior Fellow in the Innocence Project’s Strategic Litigation Department.  She is responsible for all aspects of the Innocence Project’s work in the area of eyewitness identification, the leading cause of wrongful convictions, including strategic litigation, litigation training, and public education and advocacy.

Ms. Newirth received a B.A. in Educational Studies with Honors, Magna Cum Laude, from Brown University and a J.D. from New York University School of Law, where she served on the Editorial Board of the Journal of International Law and Politics.  Following law school, Ms. Newirth was a law clerk for Judge Whitman Knapp of the Southern District of New York.  Prior to joining the Innocence Project, Ms. Newirth was a senior associate at the law firm of Brafman & Associations, P.C., and an associate at the law firm of Cleary Gottlieb, where she represented individuals in all phases of state and federal criminal investigations and prosecutions.  Ms. Newirth previously served as the Chair of the Criminal Law Committee of the Association of the Bar of New York and as a member of the Board of the New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.


Vanessa Potkin joined the Innocence Project in 2000 as the project’s first staff attorney. She helped pioneer the model of post- conviction DNA litigation used nationwide to exonerate wrongfully convicted persons. She has represented and exonerated over 25 innocent individuals, from Louisiana to Montana, who collectively served over 450 years of wrongful imprisonment, five of whom were originally prosecuted for capital murder. Vanessa maintains a post-conviction docket, crafting litigation strategy, writing motions, and litigating in trial and appellate courts nationwide to secure post- conviction DNA testing and to obtain relief based DNA test results, and other exculpatory evidence in cases involving: false confessions, erroneous eyewitness identification, informant testimony, faulty forensics, prosecutorial misconduct and ineffective assistance of counsel. She works with a wide-range of forensic experts. She also helps train and mentor newer attorneys at the Innocence Project. Vanessa is a nationally recognized expert on wrongful convictions and the use of DNA to establish innocence; she is regularly consulted by attorneys, judicial and legislative committees, and media outlets. She was a member of eight person multidisciplinary technical working group that collaborated on a report for criminal defense attorneys published in 2012 by the National Institute of Justice to increase understanding of the science of DNA and its application in the courtroom (“DNA for the Defense Bar”). Vanessa is an adjunct professor of law at Cardozo School of Law, and has co-taught the Innocence Project legal clinic since 2000.