The story of the impact of the University of Tennessee on our state and beyond is long and varied. Impact happens in many ways. It could be faculty at the UT Health Science Center who are working on a new treatment for a disease. It could be a service-learning project in which students help improve city infrastructure and boosts its marketing efforts. The examples are endless.
Then there is a really compelling story about saving someone’s life. That is the story of Dr. David Ross and his graduate students at UTC.
The Tennessee Alumnus strives to tell the story of the University of Tennessee through examples of ways alumni are impacting their communities or succeeding in their careers. The magazine has a special section for research and outreach projects to describe ways faculty and staff at each campus and institute are making a difference. We strive for our readers to say “Wow, I am so proud of my university for doing that.”
When I heard about Ross and his involvement in the Anthony Williams case more than a year ago, I knew that if it worked out, it would be a great story. The Tennessee Alumnus is not just about passing along information. We’re a magazine, and magazines need compelling stories to be successful and draw in readers.
If you have not read the Twenty Years to Life story in the fall 2014 issue, here’s the summary: Dr. Ross and his graduate students were approached by an attorney, Jennifer Bukowsky, to help her in a case involving Williams, who was serving a life sentence in Missouri for the shooting death of a teenager after a party. Williams was 14 at the time of the shooting, and he was nearing 20 years in prison at the time. Williams had exhausted all appeals, but a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that life sentences without the possibility of parole for juvenile offenders was unconstitutional reopened the case. Bukowsky found Ross’ research on unconscious transference, when witnesses identify someone as an assailant because the person looks familiar instead of a clear memory of the assailant. She was convinced Williams not only received the wrong sentence but was actually innocent of the shooting. There were witnesses not called at trial who were standing with Williams at the time of the shooting and would have corroborated his whereabouts. Ross was brought in to explain why other witnesses identified Williams as the shooter and how police lineups shown to witnesses were not done properly. In July 2014, Williams was freed from prison after the judge threw out his conviction.
Williams credits Bukowsky and Ross for helping save his life. There is no greater impact than that.