The Huntsville Item, Huntsville, TX

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April 7, 2014

Panel, concert to explore social justice, wrongfully imprisoned

HUNTSVILLE — After 18 years in prison, 12 of which were spent on death row, Anthony Graves was exonerated from the crime he was accused of and freed by the State of Texas in October 2010.

Unfortunately, Graves’s situation is not unique.

Since the first DNA exoneration in 1989, 316 people have been released as wrongfully convicted across the country, resulting in innocent people serving 4,232 years in prison for crimes they did not commit, according to The Innocence Project.

Further, some studies suggest that at least 20,000 innocent people still remain behind bars. 

Graves and other experts will discuss these issues on Saturday (April 12), when the Global Center for Journalism and Democracy at Sam Houston State University and the SHSU School of Music present “Social Justice and Music” as part of the 52nd Annual SHSU Contemporary Music Festival.

The interdisciplinary presentation will feature original music inspired by social justice and a panel discussion with Graves; Jeff Blackburn, founder and chief counsel for the Innocence Project of Texas; SHSU criminal justice professor Dennis Longmire, who specializes in corrections, the death penalty and public perceptions of crime and criminal justice; and Brandi Grissom, managing editor of the Texas Tribune. The panel will be moderated by Fox 26 news anchor Don Teague.

The event will begin at 6:30 p.m. with a panelist meet-and-greet in the Gaertner Performing Arts Center Lobby, followed by the music and panel presentations at 7:30 p.m. in the GPAC Concert Hall.

Three musical pieces inspired by themes related to the evening will be presented, including “The Innocents” by SHSU director of percussion studies John Lane and performed with guest artist Allen Otte; and “Coming Together” and “Attica,” featuring guest artists Bent Frequency, with SHSU music faculty members Lane, Amanda Prepping, Daniel Saenz and Masahito Sugihara.

“The Innocents” was inspired by an exhibit by photographer Taryn Simon, for which Simon traveled across the country photographing and interviewing individuals who had been exonerated, through DNA evidence, for crimes they had been convicted of.

“The enormity and weight of the images and words of those individuals compelled us to create and to perform,” said Lane and Otte, who collaborated for the work. “From the larger performance-art piece, which included movement, music, spoken word, and drama, we have distilled music and words into a 20-minute project.”

“The Innocents” uses the combination of text and music created on non-traditional instruments, African Thumb pianos and electronics to illustrate some of the “strong and complex” emotions evoked by Simon's work.

“Coming Together” and “Attica” were inspired by the 1971 uprising of prison inmates of the Attica, N.Y., Correctional Facility, which was described as the bloodiest prison confrontation in American history, resulting in the deaths of 43 individuals, including 10 hostages.

The event will also include a screening of “In Their Own Words,” a film of interviews with exonerates produced by The Innocence Project, a national litigation and public policy organization dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted individuals through DNA testing.

“The issue of wrongful conviction is something journalists have been tackling for decades. We are excited to join with the School of Music to explore and bring attention to this important topic,” said GCJD executive director Kelli Arena. “The combination of discussion and music will be powerful.”

Otte is professor of percussion at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music and founding member of Percussion Group Cincinnati.

Bent Frequency is a professional contemporary chamber music ensemble based in Atlanta, Ga. Founded in 2003, the group brings the avant-garde music tradition to life through adventurous programming, the promotion of new music, and a creative synthesis of music and media.

“Social Justice and Music” is free and open to the public.

For more information, call the School of Music at 936.294.1360 or the GCJD at 936.294.2508.

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