Setting an innocent man free
MELISSA MONTLE ’00 has always cheered for the underdog. That was never more evident than last fall, when she was instrumental in the release of Bill Dillon, who had been in prison 27 years for a murder he didn’t commit.
With a law degree from Tulane University and five years as a lawyer, Montle and her husband John McCarroll moved to Tallahassee when she accepted a position with the Innocence Project of Florida last June. The goal of the organization is to help innocent prisoners in Florida obtain their freedom through DNA testing.
Assigned to Dillon’s case, Montle believed Dillon was innocent from the time she met him. DNA from a blood- and sweat-stained shirt affirmed her gut feeling.
Dillon had filed a motion asking for DNA testing on the shirt, which had been saved as evidence. Convicts are rarely granted a public defender, but the judge in his case granted one. Montle worked with the public defender, writing motions, coordinating testing, working with the lab, and talking with Dillon.
Montle says Dillon was sure he would be exonerated, and he was released in November. “I find Bill to be such an inspiration. He has not an ounce of bitterness toward anyone.”
She asks people to remember not everyone in prison is guilty. “It’s easier for people not to think about it and trust the system, unless it happens to them or a family member. I want everyone to realize this happens, and these people need help.”
She concludes, “Nothing is better than watching someone walking out of prison after more than 20 years and hugging his family.”
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