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Crime

Richmond School of Law faculty and students help secure full exoneration for Virginia man who spent 45 years in prison

With her students and lawyers at the Innocence Project and Arnold & Porter, professor Mary Kelly Tate, who leads the clinic, spent 13 years reinvestigating the case, successfully seeking new DNA testing, and on the basis of his innocence, advocating for Grimm’s 2020 parole.

Trevor Dickerson

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Through the Institute for Actual Innocence Clinic at the University of Richmond, Richmond law faculty and students were part of the legal team that secured a life-altering victory for Marvin Grimm, who was unanimously awarded a writ of actual innocence by the Virginia Court of Appeals last week. New evidence and DNA testing led the court to fully exonerate him of the crime for which he was convicted in 1976. Grimm spent 45 years in incarceration.

With her students and lawyers at the Innocence Project and Arnold & Porter, professor Mary Kelly Tate, who leads the clinic, spent 13 years reinvestigating the case, successfully seeking new DNA testing, and on the basis of his innocence, advocating for Grimm’s 2020 parole.

“I accepted the Innocence Project’s invitation to be local co-counsel on this case in 2007 because I thought it was riddled with structural red flags that pointed toward Mr. Grimm’s innocence,” Tate said.

According to Tate, the case contained several problematic issues including coercive interrogation tactics, a poorly executed investigation, a rush to judgment, and unreliable physical evidence.

“Once I met Mr. Grimm, I found him totally credible and incapable of this act,” Tate said.

In November 1975, a three-year-old boy went missing and his body was found days later on the banks of the James River. In the weeks following the child’s disappearance, Grimm was arrested and pled guilty. However, Grimm continued to assert his innocence, and over time, the details of his case began to unravel.

New evidence revealed that Grimm’s confession to police was tainted and false. Advancements in forensic and biological testing proved that his DNA was not found on the victim’s body. Hairs found in Grimm’s car and home were eventually proven to not belong to the victim, despite the prosecution relying on the claim that they did during Grimm’s trial in 1976.

“The DNA testing took many years and was needed to definitively eliminate Mr. Grimm as the perpetrator both in terms of the Commonwealth’s theory of the victim’s manner of death and the physical evidence the state relied upon to connect Mr. Grimm to the crime,” Tate said.

Grimm spent 45 years in prison for this crime. After being granted parole in 2020, additional DNA testing was done, which ultimately led to the court’s decision last week.

“Though he can never get back those years, thanks to the tireless work of Professor Tate and that of her clinic students, Mr. Grimm can live out his days as an innocent man,” said University of Richmond Law School Dean Wendy Perdue.

After more than a decade of advocating for justice on his behalf, Tate’s fondness for her client has become a friendship.

“I consider Marvin a wonderful man and a friend,” she said. “I’m glad I was able to be part of this victory for him.”

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Trevor Dickerson is the Editor and Co-Founder of RVAHub.