On August 15, 2021, Innocence Maintained and its Executive Director, Founder, and Exoneree Aaron Salter held its second Exoneree Awards of Innocence event at the Detroit Yacht Club to honor new exonerees and those in the community helping them return to society.
Three years earlier, on August 15th 2018, after serving 15-years of a life sentence for a murder he did not commit, Aaron Salter walked out of prison a free man, thanks to the newly-formed Wayne County Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU). It was his 36th birthday, and his freedom was the best gift he could have ever received.
As an exonerated man who spent so much time fighting for his freedom, Aaron decided to help other people who are facing similar situations to his own. He founded the nonprofit organization, Innocence Maintained, to help exonerees make a smooth transition back to society by providing tools, resources and skill-building that will enable them to return to the workforce, live independently and contribute to their community.
Informal introductions and comments were provided by Dwight Harris, Co-Founder of Innocence Maintained and CEO/Founder of Icon 10, a reentry program for returning citizens. The awards program was introduced and moderated by Darrell Arnold, the son of Exoneree Darrell Siggers; and entertainment was provided by singer @Songbird. Awards were presented by Aaron Salter and fellow exonerees Darrell Siggers and Kevin Lackey, who were among the nine exonerees receiving “Award of Innocence” plaques at the First Annual Awards event held February 16, 2019.
Exonerees Marvin Cotton, Jr., Kenneth Nixon, Darrell Chancellor, Alexandre Ansari, Eric Anderson, Julie Baumer, Bernard Howard, Larry Smith, Kevin Harrington, Walter Forbes, Ramon Ward, and Kaveo Salter received Award of Innocence plaques “for showing great tenacity, strength, and courage in a time of great despair. You have overcome tremendous odds that most people can only dream of while maintaining your innocence…. Welcome back to society.”
Judge Michelle Rick, Trische’ Duckworth (Executive Director, Survivors Speak), Bob Schwartz (CEO, Here to Help), and Zieva Konvisser (Innocence Advocate and Board Member, Proving Innocence) each were granted an Award of Sincerity “for sincerely caring, and helping the community to end all wrongful convictions. While intervening, out of love for humanity.” The Wayne County Conviction Integrity Unit, represented by its Director Valerie Newman and Detective Patricia Little, was honored with the Award of Strength “for changing the narrative and saving innocent lives from wrongful conviction!” Each plaque also included the Innocence Maintained motto: “We are not bitter. We are better!” Finally, pendants inscribed with “Innocence Maintained. Better, Not Bitter” were presented to mothers who were such important supporters of their loved ones.
Among the many other family, friends, and community supporters in attendance were: Dr. Sivena LaShelle Taylor, Unity Mission Church; Attorney Colleen Fitzharris, Federal Defender Office; Attorney Wolfgang Mueller; Washtenaw County Prosecutor Eli Savit and Chief Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Victoria Burton-Harris; Attorneys Gabi Silver and David Cripps; Roz and Richard Keith, MindSeedCreative; Valerie Kelley-Bonner, SOOAR; April Camara, National Legal Aid & Defender Association (NLADA); Stacey Rock, Western Michigan University Cooley Law School Innocence Project; and Charese Sanders Sailor, Detroit Has Heart.