MIAMI (CBSMiami) - A Jacksonville man wrongfully convicted of armed robbery was just released last month, and it's thanks in part to law students at the University of Miami.
After 8 years of his life was taken away, Dustin Duty walked out of a Jacksonville jail on October 27th, 2021, smiling and grateful.
"Just my faith in God knowing that I have a family out there and knowing that one day that justice would prevail," Duty told the CBS affiliate in Jacksonville.
Unfortunately, justice wouldn't have prevailed on its own. It took the 36-year-old years of pleading his innocence, writing letters, hoping somebody out there would believe him.
Somebody turned out to be those with the Innocence Project of Florida and the University of Miami School of Law's Innocence Clinic, which is the only law school clinic in the state of Florida dedicated to this work.
"Once you get convicted, everybody wants to turn their back on you, throw away the key and say this guy is worthless, we're not going to listen to him anymore," said Craig Trocino, Director of the Clinic. "We listen to the people that nobody else will listen too."
Eighteen of Trocino's students worked on Duty's case over the past five years. Some of them, now 3rd-year law students, have been working on it since they began and got to witness the fulfillment of their labor.
"I went up to Jacksonville with Professor Trocino to be there when he got out. The moment he walked out and they hugged, I think everyone there was crying," said Tori Simkovic, one of those students. "It was surreal. Those victories don't happen often in innocence work and so to be there to experience that was incredible."
For Trocino and his students, taking on Duty's conviction was a no-brainer.
Trocino explained the case involved a questionable victim's identification and an alibi that wasn't even used in trial.
"It was the perfect storm of a wrongful conviction," said Trocino.
In an interrogation video from 2013, Duty was heard explaining that he was at work all day.
"Where's my boss at I want my business card to get my boss. I want him down here," pleaded Duty in the video. "I was at work all day I swear to God."
According to Duty, his boss had just dropped him off at a corner store after a long day at work. The corner store just happened to be in the area where the armed robbery occurred.
"Well unfortunately for you they brought people by to look at you and they identified you as the person involved," said the man in the video questioning Duty.
"His lawyer was so bad, it's as if he didn't have one at all," explained Trocino on how Duty was convicted, adding that Duty's boss wasn't even called to the stand during his trial.
In 2016, a motion was filed for a new trial. In 2018, during an evidentiary hearing, Duty's boss finally got to take the stand and present an alibi. The victim also came back to testify, saying she wasn't sure that she was correct in her identification of Duty.
Another 3rd-year law student at the University of Miami, Jillian Kushner, said stories like this is why she entered law school, specifically the University of Miami, in the first place.
"I can't wrap my brain around it. What it'd be like to lose 8 or 30 years of your life. You never get back time," said Kushner.
With no time to waste, Duty plans to reunite with his family in Ohio.
"A bacon cheeseburger, sounds good to me," said Duty.
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