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The Montana Innocence Project on Wednesday announced a change in leadership for the nonprofit.

Frank Knaack has been brought on as the Montana Innocence Project's executive director, replacing Lisa Mecklenberg Jackson. Caiti Carpenter has also joined the organization as legal director, replacing Larry Mansch.

In a phone interview Wednesday with the Missoulian, Knaack highlighted two components of the organization's efforts: overturning wrongful convictions and promoting policies to ensure people have access to post-conviction representation. 

"I'm really excited for the opportunity," he said. "The Innocence Project has an amazing history of showing both sides of the problem."

The organization's Montana chapter has notched five wins in court for wrongfully convicted men since 2016, including Richard Raugust in Trout Creek and Cody Marble of Missoula.

Knaack comes to Montana from the Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, where he served as the executive director. His work there included advocating to end "policing for profit," for equal access to the courts and public health approaches in drug policy. 

He has also spent eight years with the American Civil Liberties Union in Texas and Virginia. 

Knaack, who started with MIP on Feb. 1, is already working to advance legislation in Montana that would increase transparency around "jailhouse confessions," revise post-conviction release laws and create an interim study commission to determine if the state should compensate the wrongfully convicted. 

"When people lose years or decades of their lives, the state needs to do more than just say sorry," he said. "This not only helps ensure folks coming out have resources and the ability to kind of build their lives again, but also creates an incentive for prosecutors and the state itself to get it right in the first place."

Carpenter joins MIP after her time as a criminal defense attorney in Whitefish, trying both felonies and misdemeanors. She's already taken up one post-conviction relief case as co-counsel with the state's Office of Public Defender. 

"I could not be more overjoyed to dig into this work of exonerating the innocent," she said in a release from MIP. "As Legal Director for the Montana Innocence Project, I am honored to use my reason, morality, and passion to fight to preserve humanity by freeing innocent people from prison."

Mansch will stay with the organization as senior counsel. 

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Criminal justice