I Write About the Law. Could I Really Help Free a Prisoner?

A personal story of justice.

"Can you please help me get out of prison or refer me to somebody who can?"

Emily Bazelon has covered attempts to exonerate incarcerated people and frequently gets mail from people in prison. But the words in Yutico Briley's letter led her to a new kind of story: one where she herself got involved.

At 19, Yutico Briley was sentenced to 60 years without parole. He had already written to 50 or 60 defense lawyers, innocence projects, law-school clinics and private investigators. Some didn't write back. Others turned him down outright. Bazelon found him a lawyer willing to take on his case: her own sister.

In our cover story this week, Emily Bazelon reports on how Yutico Briley's ordinary case is emblematic of something larger — of how flaws in the criminal-justice system can cascade, one after the next.

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