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Protesters aim to raise awareness for those who are wrongfully convicted

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- More than twenty people marched in front of the Jackson County courthouse Monday and claimed that there are innocent people in prison convicted of crimes they did not commit.

Many of the people protesting said they have friends or family members behind bars, and they believe those people are not guilty.

Nationally, the KC Freedom Project claims there have been 143 exonerations that have resulted in the immediate release of those individuals from prison. The group claims the number of those who are wrongfully convicted each year continues to rise thanks to cities establishing conviction integrity units in local prosecutor offices. Protesters want to see Jackson County establish such a unit here.

"In a case where you have a person who's saying, 'Hey I'm innocent,' and you have the newly discovered evidence to prove that, the prosecutor's office should just out of integrity and out of wanting to do what's right, should address those cases," said Latahra Smith, founder of the KC Freedom Project.

There are examples of wrongful convictions in Missouri. Darryl burton spent 24 years of a life sentence behind bars before his St. Louis murder conviction was overturned in 2008.

And two years ago Jackson County prosecutors helped overturn the rape conviction of Robert Nelson, after DNA evidence identified another man.

Those with knowledge of Jackson County criminal cases say they can't remember any other conviction that's been overturned there. Some also claim there's already a process in the prosecutor's office for bringing new evidence to light in reviewing convictions. They just don't call it a conviction integrity unit.

Representatives from the Jackson County Prosecutor's Office declined to comment about the KC Freedom Project and it's claims.