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USC Law Student Fights For Woman's Parole After 30 Years, Launches 'FreeConnie.com'

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LAist recently met Elliot Darvick, the 'technical guru' behind the FreeConnie.com campaign launched by Adam Reich, a 25-year-old, second year law-student at USC. As the name implies, the fight is to free Connie Keel, a woman who has been imprisoned for 30 years for a crime she did not commit.

In 1980 she stayed in a car paralyzed in fear while her abusive husband and his cousin made a spur of the moment decision to rob a liquor store and shoot the clerk. Though Ms. Keel did not commit the actual robbery or murder, she is still behind bars.

Reich first met Connie in May 2008 though USC Law School’s Post-Conviction Justice Project, "a clinical program that affords students litigation and representation experience, and provides pro bono representation to women incarcerated for parolable terms". In October 2008, thanks to Reich's hard work, the state recommended Connie for parole. Her case is now on the Governor's desk, and he has 23 days to decide to uphold her parole or keep her in prison. Reich and Darvick have been working endlessly to get the word out about Connie's case, as public outcry could be a driving factor behind Schwarzenegger's decision. LAist had the chance to talk to Reich and learn more about his involvement with the case, why Connie's case is so important and why we must take action to help 'Free Connie'.

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How did you get involved with Connie's case and why?

She was one of four clients I was assigned [as part of the Post-Conviction Justice Project], and she stood out amongst the rest because of the unique, tragic circumstances of her case and her life.

On October 29, 2008, I represented Connie before the California Board of Parole Hearings (BPH). The BPH determined Connie was suitable for parole and would not pose any danger to society based on numerous factors, chiefly that she has never been disciplined for violence, inside or outside of prison, and has served an extraordinarily long amount of time for her minimal role in an offense physically perpetrated by her husband and his cousin.

Why are the circumstances of Connie's parole so unique in California?

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While this suitability determination was momentous, California is one of three states where the governor has a right to disregard the state BPH. While Gov. Schwarzenegger's record of reversal is better than his predecessor, he still does not approve most parole suitability findings.


What sparked the campaign launch?

I launched this campaign, www.freeconnie.com, along with my good friend Elliot Darvick, because we were both moved by Connie's story and thought it was something the public would have interest in.


Why is public support so crucial?

I think increased public awareness and support will compel the Governor to give Connie's case more than a mere cursory glance. I strongly believe that Governor Schwarzenegger is a humanist, and if he reads Connie's story in-depth he will see it would be unjust and inhumane to deny her freedom. After all, this is a woman who has been in jail 29 years because she sat in a car.

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The fact is Connie's case is why people go to law school: to promote justice and impact lives. I can't think of a better way to use my education.

Why must we help free Connie?

Connie is a victim of extreme domestic violence who suffered from Intimate Partner Battering Syndrome (f/k/a Battered Women's Syndrome) at the time of the crime...It would be unjust and inhumane to keep this woman in prison any longer.

California and the Nation are in dire financial states, and this non-violent woman is costing CA taxpayers more than $45,000 per year to house at CIW. If Connie were paroled, not only would she have a job in CA and contribute to local economy, but she'd be able to pay taxes too. Continued expenditures on nonviolent, rehabilitated prisoners is a poor appropriation of state funds, and contributed to California's economic woes.

Connie is a mother who missed her children's lives, and whose grandchildren have never gotten to know her outside of a prison setting.

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Domestic violence has returned to the forefront as a result of Chris Brown and Rhianna. Connie is a powerful motivational speaker, and her story might really impact a lot of lives, convincing young women in similar situations that abusive relationships are not normal and not okay. Look at Connie, and see what could happen.

No one has ever really stood up for Connie in her lifetime. She has suffered atrocities no one should have to suffer. Considering President Obama's call to service and every one's moral and ethical duties to his/her fellow man, I hope when people read Connie's story they are as motivated to act as I am.

What can one do to help Free Connie ?

  1. Send (via email/fax) a letter of support to the Governor. A template and instructions are available at freeconnie.com.
  2. Call the Governor's office at (916) 445-2841 and ask to speak with someone from Legal Affairs. Indicate you are calling in support of Connie Keel's parole.
  3. Tweet @Schwarzenegger and @mariashriver about Connie Keel and argue for her release.
  4. Spread word of www.freeconnie.com via other social media tools like Facebook and Myspace; via email to friends, collegaue, and associates; via posts on individual blogs.
  5. Reach out to representatives in state government and federal government and ask them to help.
  6. Write letters to every California newspaper, radio station, and television station asking for coverage and follow-up on Connie Keel and/or asking them to ask the Governor to release this non-violent grandmother.
  7. Contact any civil rights, social justice, domestic violence, prisoner rights, or women's rights organization and ask them to support Connie Keel's case for freedom.

Spread the word, there are only 23 days left until the Schwarzenegger makes his decision!
Photos: Top: Connie and her daughter, 2008. Bottom: 25-year-old USC law student Adam Reich. Photos courtesy of Adam Reich.