University of Kansas law student helps overturn murder conviction

LAWRENCE, Kan. - A murder conviction was overturned and it was in large part because of the work by a University of Kansas law student and Shawnee native.

Abby West spent more than 100 hours on Kimberly Sharp’s case with the Project for Innocence.

On July 2, 2006 authorities found the body of David Owen near the Kansas River in Topeka.

Owen called himself an advocate for the homeless and often tried to convince them to reunite with their families.

Four homeless people were charged in the crime including Sharp. She was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison.

Jean Phillips is the Director for Project For Innocence at KU, which works on cases where people may have been wrongly convicted.

Because of the project’s work, a federal appeals court threw out Sharp’s conviction last week.

Phillips explained, “It was a long, hard-fought battle. Those cases are not won very often. They are rarely granted, as a matter of fact.”

The judge said detectives falsely led Sharp to believe she would not go to jail if she cooperated with the investigation.

The case’s lead researcher was Blue Valley North grad and then-KU law student West.

“To be able to help someone out like this is a really unique experience that not a lot of people get to have while in law school,” remarked West.

It was an accomplishment, but also an important learning experience, she said.

Phillips explained, “I suppose we try to achieve justice on a broader scale. We train people to do it correctly because the system works when it's done correctly.”

Sharp isn’t out of prison.

The Shawnee County District Attorney and Kansas Attorney General's Office will decide whether to retry her case.


Shannon Halligan can be reached at .

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