Thursday, 29 March 2007

Durham assistant DA to lead state panel

Durham assistant DA to lead state panel

By John Stevenson, The Herald-Sun
March 28, 2007 10:57 pm

DURHAM -- Durham Assistant District Attorney Kendra Montgomery-Blinn next month will become the first executive director of North Carolina's new Innocence Inquiry Commission, which reportedly is the first agency of its kind in the country and is intended to protect innocent people from languishing behind bars.

The Legislature established the Raleigh-based commission last year to investigate claims of actual innocence by inmates convicted of crimes.

Lawmakers believed it was needed because of defendants like Alan Gell, who spent more than seven years on death row for a murder in which he later was exonerated.

Commission Chairman Quentin T. Sumner, a Nash County judge, said Wednesday it took longer than anticipated to find an executive director. But the wait was worth it, he added.

"Of all the applicants we reviewed and interviewed, Ms. Montgomery-Blinn stood out as possessing a balanced combination of the administration and legal skills needed to do the commission's work," said Sumner. "Moreover, it's clear from both her work history and our discussions with her, Ms. Montgomery-Blinn has neither a political agenda nor an ax to grind. She's seen and experienced how criminal law works from both sides of the fence."

A graduate of Purdue University with a law degree from Duke, Montgomery-Blinn has been with the Durham District Attorney's Office for three years, most recently specializing in domestic violence cases.

While at Duke, she was a volunteer with the school's Innocence Project and eventually became its student director.

Montgomery-Blinn said Wednesday she was excited about her new position, but also sad to leave her current job.

She added that she has "great respect" for District Attorney Mike Nifong and was "absolutely not" departing because of turmoil surrounding the Duke lacrosse sex-offense case.

According to Montgomery-Blinn, the transition from prosecution work to helping convicted defendants isn't as big a leap as it might appear.

"Prosecutors are very concerned about justice," she said. "As a prosecutor, my biggest nightmare would be to convict an innocent person. Nothing has changed. I'll just be going at things from a different direction."

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