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Once Charged with Attempted Murder, Now a UW Law Graduate
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Theo Shaw

Summary: A recent law school graduate was once on a path that was leading nowhere but through determination and help from others, they were able to reach their goal.

Theodore “Theo” Roosevelt Shaw was part of a group of six black teenagers in New Orleans accused of beating up a white classmate. Charged with attempted murder in 2006, Shaw went on to turn his life around and graduate from the University of Washington School of Law, according to the Herald Net.

  
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Shaw, 29, addressed his classmates during the law school’s Sunday graduation ceremony in Seattle. He talked about the crucial responsibility him and his fellow future lawyers have to fight injustice. Shaw interned with the Innocence Project New Orleans, which strives to exonerate unjustly convicted individuals.

Shaw said, “We may not be guilty or have had anything to do with the injustices that other people experienced in the criminal justice system. But we have a responsibility: a responsibility to the poor, to the condemned, to those who may not be popular in the eyes of the majority.”

The six black teenagers, including Shaw, were charged with attempted murder. The extreme charge drew protests, calling for fairness for the “Jena 6.” Shaw was arrested and forced to spend months in jail because of a large bail set for his release. While Shaw claimed he was innocent and played no role in the beating of his classmate, he ended up pleading no-contest to a misdemeanor so the legal mess would end. Had a jury found him guilty of attempted murder, he would have been in jail for 50 years or so.

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When Shaw sat in jail for those months, he used a law book from another inmate to write motions to the judge for his bail to be lowered. In an interview before law school, Shaw said he explained that he felt a rush of power when he considered that even a poor, uneducated, incarcerated teenager could write something to compel a judge to respond, even if it was a no. Shaw told Nola.com opinion columnist Jarvis DeBerry, “Oh, I have to just talk the way you want me to talk and maybe they’ll come give me some attention.”

Innocence Project New Orleans Executive Director Emily Maw attended the graduation in Seattle to watch Shaw walk across the stage and address his classmates. She said, “Of course he’s exceptional.” She also touched on the fact that when Shaw was finally able to get out of jail, he had a network of people waiting to guide and mentor him. Maw’s husband, Rob McDuff, also attended the ceremony. He was the attorney who negotiated Shaw’s plea deal and helped him after jail.



McDuff said, “It was quite a sight to see this young man who Louisiana incarcerated on unreasonably high bail, who was on the railroad to the penitentiary, leading his class, leading the procession, giving the speech to the law school graduation. I don’t know that that’s ever happened.”

McDuff added, “First thing he said to me when I met with him was ‘I want to get back into school.’ … We worked it out, got him back in school. It’s amazing how he turned that terrible experience into a true quest.”

Do you think people deserve second chances? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.

This is not the first time the University of Washington School of Law has given a student a second chance at proving they are worth it. To learn more about the school, read these articles:

Photo: theburtonwire.com



 

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