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2023 Winter Newsletter - 40th Anniversary Edition

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centurion.orgLeft to right: Christina François, Paul Casteleiro,Martin Lucio Santillan, and Dallas attorney Gary Udashen.Celebrating 40 Yearsof Service!
On Saturday, Sept. 30, 2023 we celebrated our 40thAnniversary at Gotham Hall NYC with almost 300 ofour supporters, allies, partners, and the inspiring menand women we serve and their families. It was trulya memorable evening and an honor to have so manywho walk with us in the ght for justice gathered tocelebrate!Dwayne Leblanc and Martin Lucio Santillan enjoyeda grand Celebration of Freedom, and Paul Casteleirowas honored with the Champion of Justice Awardfor his 40 years of “going toe to toe with the mostchallenging and darkest parts of the system”. Ourkeynote speaker, John Grisham, and our Master ofCeremonies, Dr. Stacey Patton, continued to elevatethe night with powerful remarks, motivating all toremain steadfast in the journey to right the wrongs ofthe criminal legal system.Thank you to all who attended and those who providedtheir generous support to make the Gala a success!Enjoy the centerfold collage of photos from the nightof celebration!Celebrating Martin LucioSantillan’s ExonerationBy Paul CasteleiroMartin Lucio Santillan spent 25 years in prison for amurder the Dallas District Attorney stated he shouldnever have been charged with committing. Hewas released in December 2022 and received hisexoneration on March 22, 2023.Santillan’s capital murder conviction was based on anidentication  by  a  lone  eyewitness,  who  admitted  todrinking the entire day of the 2:00 a.m. shooting outsidea nightclub in an upscale Dallas neighborhood. All theeyewitnesses agreed the shooter was wearing a DallasStars hockey jersey. DNA testing of the jersey in 2021lead  to  the  identication  of  the  actual  shooter  andMartin’s release from prison in December 2022 and hisexoneration in March 2023.

At the time of the murder on July 14, 1997 Martin waswith members of his family and friends in a Hispanic barin another part of Dallas approximately 30 minutes awayfrom  the  crime  scene.  Six  witnesses  testied  he  waswith them all evening, yet the jury convicted him basedon the alcohol-impaired eyewitness’s identication.The  actual assailant,  while  eeing  the scene,  threwaway  the  hockey  jersey  he  was  wearing  which  wascovered with the victim’s blood. Fortunately, the policewere able to recover the jersey just a few blocks fromthe  shooting  In  2021,  the  Conviction  Integrity  Unit  ofthe  Dallas  County  District Attorney’s  Oce  agreed  toCenturion’s request to have additional DNA testingperformed  on  the  jersey  and  to  re-investigate  thecase. In 2008 and 2014, DNA testing of the jersey wasunsuccessful.The  new  testing  revealed  the  DNA  of  two  majorcontributors  on  the  jersey,  one  male  and  one  female.A search of CODIS, the national DNA databasemaintained by the FBI, revealed the identity of thefemale contributor, but not the male. Dallas policeinterviewed the woman who told them about an(Continued on page 4)centurionseeking freedom for the innocent in prison

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22 Releases!70 FRED to date!590 inquires161 cases in development*40 Fred clients suported20 cases in active litigation & investigation1 new board membercase inquiriesby statehighlights2023*112 cases are pending nal of November 2023*15 cases where states are unknown / undened

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3A letter fromExecutive DirectorCorey WaldronDear Supporters, Friends, and Advocates,This year, we celebrate a distinguished milestone - 40 years ago, Centurion was founded as the rst organization inthe world with a mission to pursue truth and justice for the wrongfully imprisoned. With your support, throughout thelast 4 decades, Centurion has given hope to countless innocent men and women who whose pleas for help wouldhave otherwise been ignored and unheard. To date, we have freed 70 innocent men and women, and are currentlyrepresenting 20 individuals that we believe to be completely innocent of the crimes for which they are incarcerated.As we reect on our history and forge ahead into our future, I am lled with gratitude for your unwaveringdedication to and support of our mission to free the wrongfully convicted. Since our  inception,  Centurion  has been the  organization  that  rises to challenges  that  seem  insurmountable  toothers. We take on the battles that seem unwinnable and we don’t walk away until our clients are freed. It’s not inCenturion’s DNA to give up. And it’s not in our nature to walk away once the ght for freedom is won - we are there tosupport our clients in building self-determined lives after they are released, and continue to help them however wecan for as long as they need us. Despite the growing number of obstacles that we face in proving our clients’ innocence and helping them rebuild their lives, we’ll be here to ght for justice for the innocent in prisonfor the next 40 years and beyond.This year’s newsletter contains a snapshot of our most recent achievements: you’ll nd stories about the individu-als we’ve freed; gain insight on into the challenges we face as we work to free our clients; learn about how we aresupporting our clients after they are released; and catch a glimpse of the incredible celebration that was our 40thAnniversary Gala. As you page through, I hope you feel proud of the remarkable impact you’ve had on our pursuitof justice. You drive us forward, and make our victories possible.Please consider renewing your commitment to Centurion’s mission. Let the stories of those we serve inspire you tojoin us in our commitment to truth, and unshakable dedication to those who have been wronged by a system thatfailed them. Together, we CAN AND WILL create a more promising future for the innocent in prison. Thank you for supporting this work.With profound gratitude,Corey WaldronExecutive DirectorDonate online online

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4supporting those who have emerged from the shadows of wrongful conviction.Recognizing the unique challenges faced by wrongfully convicted individuals upon release over the past three years, Centurion has strategically expanded its eorts to provide comprehensive post-release support services to our clients. Centurion’s Post-Release Support services have evolved to address six core priorities: obtaining gainful employment; securing safe, aordable housing; nancial support; access to healthcare; access to mental health services; and reconnecting with family and friends. Leveraging partnerships with community-based organizations throughout the country, we are able to connect our freed clients with invaluable resources that position them to build and maintain full, stable lives.Since the more formal incorporation of our Post-Release Support services program and the addition of Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Pamela Feig, to our team three years ago, we have seen marked improvements in our ability to proactively and eciently assist the community we serve both immediately after their release, and throughout ensuing years. Take, for example, Dwayne Leblanc’s story; after serving 28 years for a murder he did not commit, Dwayne was released from prison in New Orleans, LA in October of 2022. He was reunited with his mother, Betty, his twin brother Dwight, his father Gilbert, and his extended family. Initially, Dwayne lived with his mother, helping to take care of her, and taking his rst steps towards rebuilding his life. To say that it was not a smooth road starting out would be an understatement - he faced signicant challenges early on, but with Centurion’s help, Dwayne persevered. Building upon the experience he gained serving as a hospice worker while in prison, Dwayne found a part-time job working as a health aide for an in-home senior care company in New Orleans. Centurion connected Dwayne with Catholic Charities’ Cornerstone Builders program, which helped him secure an apartment in a nice area of the city where he could live independently. Perhaps most impressively, working with Catholic Charities, Dwayne obtained a full-time job with a restorative justice organization, where he is working to facilitate conict resolution with at-risk youth. Dwayne navigates the ups and downs of life with dignity, fortitude, and resilience - we are proud to support him on his journey.Centurion’s Post-Release Support services are not just a temporary lifeline; they are the cornerstone of rebuilding lives shattered by wrongful incarceration. For more information on how Centurion is ensuring an empowered transition for the people we serve after their release, please visit Martin Lucio Santillan’s Exoneration(Cont’d from cover) ex-boyfriend, Michael Edward Nevarez who was 16-years old at the time, frequently wore a Dallas Stars jersey back when she was dating him in July 1997. She said she remembered seeing him with blood on his hands one summer night. He told her he had gotten into a ght and thrown the jersey away. Michael was located out of state in Colorado and his DNA was surreptitiously obtained by the local police and it matched the male DNA on the jersey. Mr. Nevarez was arrested a short time later. In November 2023, a Dallas County grand jury indicted him for the murder of Damond Wittman.After Martin’s release in 2022, he began working with Miles of Freedom, a Dallas organization which assists with job placement and reintegration. He spent a few months helping in their food pantry and working on landscaping jobs. Martin is living independently in Dallas near his family and doing his best to take it one day at a time and enjoy each day.The release of an individual who has been wrongfully convicted marks the end of a harrowing chapter in their life, but it also signals the beginning of a challenging journey towards rebuilding a life grounded in self-determination. Beyond the prison walls, these exonerees face a myriad of obstacles as they strive to reintegrate into society, regain their dignity, and nd a semblance of normalcy. In the pursuit of justice, Centurion’s responsibility extends beyond the courtroom; it encompasses the crucial task of Santillan at his exoneration. Post Release SupportAn Update

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5Name Removal CeremonyAn innocent person’s journey from wrongful imprisonment to a thriving life after their release is marked by many milestones. At Centurion, we are committed to walking alongside our clients along every step of that journey. We mark a crucial part of each person’s journey with a Name Removal Ceremony at our national headquarters in Princeton, NJ. It’s an emotional moment of closure, community, and gratitude.On Friday, September 28, this ceremony was completed for Dwayne Leblanc and Martin Lucio Santillan.Dwayne LeblancMartin Lucio Santillan

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7For more pics and videos visit

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8ANNIVERSARYJoan BlessingThe Pisani FamilyThank you to our 2023 40th Anniversary SponsorsWith your contributions, we are able to support the people we serve from the day we take on a case and add their name to our Client Board, through their long and winding ght for justice, into the lives we help them build post-release. Your continued support enables us to hold these annual Name Removal Ceremonies. Let’s get more names taken o of our Client Board and bring our innocent clients home!LEGACYJozelyn & Peter DavisEXONERATEDThe Yedlin CompanyJUSTICEPeter & Amy DesmondThe family of John C. TuckerFREEDOMWilliam & Ilona CrosswhiteMary Catherine Cu & William WolfDeirdre M. Giblin & David B. DuBardKen & Tema JaverbaumRobert Hilkert & Deborah ToppmeyerThe Kahn FamilyDana & Peter LangermanRob & Cheryl MooneyThe Prospect Hill FoundationJim QueryBill Raynor in memory of Bonni RaynorDr. Jessica Stevens & Stephen PollardOur Current Case Board

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9Fighting forSam Grasty’s FreedomTo date, Samuel Grasty has spent 24-years in prisonfor a crime he did not commit. His case revealsdevastating  truths  about  wrongful  convictions:  1)police ocers often prey on vulnerable communities inorder to secure confessions, and their investigationsrarely lead to justice for the accused or the victims andtheir families; 2) the race of the accused often colors aprosecutor’s and police ocer’s perception of a case;and 3) scientic evidence that should be sucient toprove an accused’s innocence is often negated byineective defense counsel. On  October  10,  1997,  around  2:00  PM,  the  body  ofHenrietta Nickens, the grandmother Niema Nickenswhom Samuel Grasty once dated, was found inher apartment where she lived alone in Chester,Pennsylvania. The night before she hosted a casualdinner for her daughter, Carlotta, her daughter’sboyfriend, Rufus McKinney, and her granddaughter,Niema Nickens. Mrs. Nickens struggled with severalhealth issues but was known to keep an orderly homeand was still modestly capable of hosting familygatherings.The dinner ended around 8:30 PM with all of the guestsdeparting. Carlotta recalls ending her last telephoneconversation  with  her  mother  around  11  PM,  whenHenrietta began to watch the 11 o’clock news, whichwas part of her daily routine. Between the ending ofthat call and October 10, 1997, Mrs. Nickens becamea victim of a burglary, sexual assault and murder.When  Mrs.  Nickens’  body  was  found,  her  homewas in complete disarray. Blood was found on herbedroom walls and sheets, the backdoor to the kitchenwas split in half, the television that was once in theliving room was in a hallway and was covered by anunknown  green  jacket.    There  was  semen  found  inHenrietta’s rectum, an indication that Henrietta wasraped since she had no sexual partners. Her lack ofsexual activities, coupled with her health issues, weredismissed by The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,explaining that she engaged in consensual anal sexor that a used condom was simply deposited in her.Surely, these logical leaps would not have been madeif the victim were a white, inrmed woman.Chester Police Department Detective Todd Nuttallwas  assigned  to  the  case;  it  was  his  rst  homicidecase as a lead investigator. He turned to a youngman named Richard McElwee, an impressionableteenager  with  a  cognitive  disability  and  an  IQ  of  69. After a lengthy interrogation by police ocers, and theobvious threat that he better cooperate if he wanted toavoid spending the rest of his life in prison, McElweeimplicated Samuel Grasty, who was only 20 years oldat the time, and Derrick Chappell and Morton Johnson, who were 15 and 18 years old respectively. McElweemaintained the incredible story that Sam, Derrick, andMorton went into the home, where he was acting as thelook-out, as they robbed her of 30 dollars. McElweereceived a reduced sentence for his testimony.On  September  27,  2000,  Mr.  Grasty’s  jury  trialcommenced;  the  jury  returned  a  verdict  of  not  guiltyof the murder. They were unable to reach a verdict onthe remaining charges.  On  December  11, the retrialcommenced  with  the  State  now  specically  arguingthe unknown green jacket belonged to Mr. Grasty.Compelling new DNA evidence, based on newtechnologies, was presented by Centurion and theInnocence Projects of New York and Pennsylvania onMay 19,  2022. The new  testing  was  able  to  uncoversemen on Mrs. Nickens’s bed that was not discoveredat trial. The new evidence also showed that the DNAon the jacket  matched the DNA of the semen,  whichdid not belong Samuel Grasty, Morton Johnson, orDerrick Chapell.During a hearing that begin on July 25, 2023, DNAexpert  Alan  Keel  testied  that  through  the  newDNA evidence Grasty, Johnson and Chappell wereexcluded. On August 22, 2023, expert witnessTimothy  Palmbach,  who  specializes  in  the  areas  ofcrime scene reconstruction, crime scene analysis and blood analysis, presented that the new DNAevidence fundamentally alters the crime scene andthe conclusions drawn from it, establishing that theunidentied  man  is  the  individual  who  raped  andmurdered Ms. Nickens. The hearing ended withthe  judge  giving  the  parties  an  opportunity  to  lesimultaneous  ndings  of  fact  and  conclusion.  Theparties are expected to le their ndings on November20, 2023. Samuel Grasty remains hopeful that hisinnocence will nally be proven.Follow CenturionCenturion -Freedom for the innocent@CenturionFreecenturion.freedom Centurion

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10In June of this year, we welcomed Naz (Fizz) Ahmed as the newest memberof the Board of Directors. Fizz has been a supporter and ally of Centurion forseveral years. He is a marketing executive with over a decade of experienceworking in the technology industry. Mr. Ahmed is currently a Senior AccountExecutive at Google, and also the Founder and CEO of a corporate growthstrategy consulting rm called Growth Theory.As  a  board  member  at  Centurion,  Fizz  eectively  channels  his  passion  forsocial  justice to  drive  impactful  change in  the  community.  Fizz shared  “Iam privileged to stand alongside an extraordinary team of advocates whotirelessly strive to rectify the wrongful convictions that disproportionately aectpeople of color. Through our collective eorts, we aim to drive transformativechange, restore hope, and reunite families torn apart by the harsh realities ofan imperfect criminal justice system.”We are incredibly grateful Fizz has joined our leadership team bringing his amazing talent and resources aswe continue our impactful journey.Centurion welcomed a new student intern from Princeton University’s Schoolof Public and International Aairs this past summer -- Ava Milberg. She willcontinue to volunteer with Centurion through her senior year while pursuingher major in Public and International Aairs.Student interns have been part of the critical role of volunteers at Centurionthroughout its history and a way for Centurion to expand its sphere of inuenceby  engaging  students  as  ambassadors  for  the  organization  and  as  futureadvocates for the wrongfully imprisoned.During her time with Centurion Ava has absorbed herself in the work of ourcase development department by examining court records, police and forensicdocumentation, and compiling comprehensive case reports that provide oursta with a vital tool to evaluate the possible innocence of prospective clients.Her learning experience at Centurion included the opportunity to review post-conviction review motions led onbehalf of a Centurion client and attend to observe an evidentiary hearing in Pennsylvania.Ava has been a policy intern at the ACLU of New Jersey, and has been active with Students for Prison Education,Abolition and Reform at Princeton. Princeton University’s Center for Career Development graciously providedAva a stipend for her summer internship with our organization.Intern SpotlightWelcome to Our Board

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11Join our Team - Summer Internship OpportunityOn average, it takes 8-10 years and $350K to free an innocent person from prison. Your gift enables us to free innocent men and women and provide them with the essential tools to rebuild their lives.Visit us at to see all the ways you can make a contribution today or go to to make a donation by credit card or PayPal.We are currently accepting applications for a full time summer intern and/or law clerk, with the option to extend this opportunity to the fall semester, if desired. The deadline to apply is January 15, 2024.Centurion’s legal team is small and collaborative. Each member of the team plays an integral role in securing a client’s freedom. The purpose of the internship is to expose the legal intern/ fellow to each stage of securing an incarcerated client’s freedom. The legal intern/clerk will receive one case to evaluate and recommend whether Centurion should take on the case, requiring them to work closely with Centurion’s case development team. In addition, the role will require the legal intern/clerk to complete research projects for its sta attorneys, assist in the preparation for hearings and depositions, and participate in investigations. Finally, travel to state facilities may be requested in order for the legal intern/ fellow to gain a better understanding of the impact of their work and the clients we serve.Centurion attorneys also aim to ght the injustices that lead to wrongful convictions. The intern/clerk may also have the opportunity to work on amicus briefs and shadow Centurion attorneys in court.To learn more about this opportunity and how to apply, visit our website at

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Board of DirectorsRob Mooney, ChairRob Connor, PhD, Vice ChairJozelyn Davis, PhD, TreasurerNaz AhmedCharles Crow, Esq.Mary Catherine Cu, P.J.A.D.Jim Floyd, PhDJohn GrishamKenneth Javerbaum, Esq.James McCloskeyRichard MilesEdwin Pisani, CPAStephen Pollard, CFPKathy VikStaCorey Waldron, Executive DirectorJanet Baxendale, Intake Analyst & Volunteer DevelopmentPaul Casteleiro, Legal DirectorJames Cousins, Attorney & Case InvestigatorPamela Feig, Post-release CoordinatorChristina François, Assistant Legal DirectorKate Germond, Sr. Advocate & InvestigatorRosemary Kay, BookkeeperAlan Maimon, Case InvestigatorMadison McCoy, Admin SupportTyler Spikes, Exonoree SupportTrish Traverse, Case DeveloperGene Truncellito, Sr. Case DeveloperKimberly Weston, Director of Case DevelopmentLaila S. Wilson-McCoy, Director of DevelopmentVolunteersMolly Chrein | Lori Freedman | Ann Fries | Stacey Izzard | Marilyn M. Jerry | Carol Kientz Andrea Lauber | Fidelis Machado | Jock McFarlane | Ava Milberg Hannah Shostack | Laura Sinderbrand | Michael ReganSupport our work! Shop our online store at for your “I Didn’t Do It” or “They Didn’t Do It” Merch.