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Shindig marks Pennsylvania Innocence Project's 5th year

Guests include 2 men who were wrongfully convicted, plus TV star Tony Goldwyn.

THE PENNSYLVANIA Innocence Project, which works to free people who have been wrongfully convicted, will celebrate its fifth anniversary tonight at the Kimmel Center with cocktails, dessert and actor Tony Goldwyn of TV's "Scandal" fame.

The event will honor those who have doggedly pursued justice for people wrongfully behind bars and also will recognize those wrongfully convicted.

Eugene Gilyard, 35, who spent 15 years in state prison before a judge tossed out his and co-defendant Lance Felder's convictions in a 1995 slaying, will speak. A Common Pleas judge ruled that Gilyard and Felder should get new trials.

The Innocence Project uncovered evidence that two other men - including a man already in prison - had killed North Philly businessman Thomas Keal, 52.

Before Gilyard's talk, attendees will see a documentary produced by University of Pennsylvania Law School students. It focuses on the case, eyewitness misidentification and what's being done in Philadelphia to improve eyewitness identification, Marissa Boyers Bluestine, legal director of the Pennsylvania Innocence Project, said yesterday.

The project, an independent nonprofit organization based at Temple University's Beasley School of Law, opened in April 2009. It investigates applications from inmates statewide in which there is a claim of factual innocence - that is, cases in which an inmate can be proved innocent by DNA or other evidence.

The Innocence Project was also instrumental in helping to obtain the 2010 release of Kenneth Granger, who spent 28 years behind bars after he was convicted of murdering a North Philadelphia taproom cook. He has always maintained his innocence.

Granger, 56, also will be at tonight's event, Bluestine said.

Three people will receive awards:

* JoAnne Epps, dean of the Beasley School, for her support of the Innocence Project.

* Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, for his national leadership in modernizing police-investigation techniques.

* James Figorski, a lawyer at Dechert LLP, who will receive the inaugural Edward Ohlbaum Award for Outstanding Volunteer Service, honored for his pro-bono work on behalf of Shaurn Thomas.

Thomas, 40, has been in prison for 21 years, Figorski said yesterday. He and his older brother Mustafa were convicted in 1994 of second-degree murder for the 1990 robbery and slaying in North Philly of Domingo Martinez, a prominent businessman. They were sentenced to mandatory life in prison.

Figorski said he and Bluestine have evidence that seems to back up Shaurn Thomas' claim that at the time of the murder he was at the Youth Study Center. Thomas was 16 at the time, and hours before the murder he had been arrested in Center City for the attempted theft of a motorcycle.

Goldwyn, who plays a president in the TV series "Scandal," is the producer and director of a new miniseries, "The Divide," a legal drama scheduled to air on WE tv. Attendees will get a sneak peek of his new show, which was partly filmed in Philadelphia. The miniseries features a caseworker with the so-called Innocence Initiative.