He helps innocent prisoners win their freedom
Through his Centurion Ministries, Jim McCloskey works to overturn unjust sentences.
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With that victory, McCloskey knew he had found his calling. He returned to seminary and completed his degree. But rather than becoming an ordained minister, he decided to dedicate his life to serving the unjustly imprisoned. With a $10,000 gift (and moral support) from his parents, he founded Centurion Ministries in 1983. Inspired by his Christian faith, he named his organization after the Roman centurion who stood at Jesus' cross and declared, "Surely this one is innocent."Skip to next paragraph
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Centurion Ministries has remained, according to McCloskey, a small "mom and pop" organization. He and his staff undertake a rigorous process to decide whether to accept a case – let alone bring it to completion.
To date, 42 wrongly convicted men and two wrongly convicted women have walked free because of the exhaustive work of Centurion's staff.
Today McCloskey serves as executive director. Kate Hill Germond, Centurion's director, comanages Centurion and also works as an investigator and advocate.
Centurion's full-time investigator, Paul Henderson, a former investigative reporter for The Seattle Times, won a Pulitzer Prize in 1982 for a series of articles that vindicated a man who had been falsely convicted of rape. Mr. Henderson later became a professional investigator. He joined Centurion in 1996.
With only two other paid staff positions, the small team relies on the generous research, legwork, and financial donations of countless volunteers and other supporters, including attorneys.
McCloskey laments that many people still sit in prisons wrongly convicted, people his small group can't help.
"We just don't have the resources," he says.
The tedious work of reading through every document, report, and phone message, as well as reinterviewing witnesses or interviewing new ones, and sorting through all the evidence from cases tried years ago, means that each case takes years to pursue and requires uncommon tenacity.
Other human rights groups may have a higher public profile than Centurion, but, as famed attorney Barry Scheck of the Innocence Project (which seeks to exonerate innocent prisoners through DNA testing) commented last year: "Both Jim and Kate are a national resource."
Richard Miles, an inmate released in October 2009 from a life sentence for murder for which he was wrongly convicted, couldn't agree more.
"To me," he says, "Jim McCloskey may not be the man you hear about. But he's the one who does the work and pulls back the curtain so the world can see an individual's innocence."
McCloskey and his team not only work to free innocent prisoners: They help them reenter society once they're released.
Centurion becomes fully invested in those it advocates for, knowing well the nightmare these individuals have lived through – whether they are innocent victims of tragic injustice, mistaken identification, corruption, laziness, or indifference.
McCloskey says his commitment and that of his staff is surpassed by only one other group, who persists in advocating for the innocent.
"It's the mothers," he says. "They're the ones who really never give up. They never give up on their sons."