An illuminating class. An inspiring professor. A direction-affirming experience. Together they swept away Amanda Sanders’ lifelong goal of attending law school and drove her headlong into teaching.

More specifically, a Northern Arizona University class on wrongful convictions and an internship with a team that helped exonerate three men in Ohio “changed the entire course of my life,” said the first-year YC adjunct instructor.

Instead of studying and practicing law, Amanda now endeavors to ignite a passion for truth and justice in students studying administration of justice at Yavapai College.

“If I can get that one student to be interested in helping the criminal justice system and make a difference, I feel like my career goal will be accomplished,” she said.

Northern Arizona University Professor Dr. Robert Schehr was among the educators who unwittingly  thrust Amanda into teaching. After being captivated by the content of Schehr’s wrongful conviction class, Amanda worked with the Arizona Innocence Project, which paved the way for an internship with the Ohio Innocence Project at the University of Cincinnati. There she worked with a team of professors, law fellows and attorneys who exonerated three men who had been wrongly convicted of murder. The men, known as the “East Cleveland Three,” had exhausted their appeals while spending 19 years behind bars. A thorough investigation on the trio’s behalf found a piece of evidence in a police file that led to a new trial and freedom.

Even though her internship had ended, Amanda flew to Ohio to celebrate with the families of the East Cleveland Three upon their release from prison in 2015. The celebration was bitter-sweet, she said, as it is for all exonerees. “They’re so happy to be out, but at the same time, they have to learn to live in society again. They have to relearn technology. They have no money, no support system so for some it’s really, really hard.”

Amanda maintains contact with everyone involved in the East Cleveland Three legal victory and others in the exoneree community. One of the Ohio exonerees, Laurese Glover, was a remote guest in Amanda’s wrongful convictions class spring semester.

In that class, her first as a YC instructor, Amanda sensed in some of her students the intense desire to improve the criminal justice system she embraced in college. “I got several emails from students saying the class helped them decide  to pursue certain avenues in their lives.”  One student with law school plans told her that hearing from the exoneree affirmed his career choice.

Amanda’s interest in law ignited early and was encouraged by her late grandfather, Peter Baird, an attorney who worked on the landmark Miranda Rights case. She said participating in a mock trial in grade school helped solidify her direction. “The entire course of my life was going to be law,” she said, until it wasn’t.

After graduating from NAU in 2013 Amanda, now determined to teach at the college level, obtained a master’s degree in psychology with an emphasis in criminal justice from the University of the Rockies.  

The opportunity to teach arrived after she reached out to YC Administration of Justice Department Chair Dr. Michael Davis.

“He (Davis) gave me the opportunity for the Wrongful Convictions course as well as several other opportunities, and helped me get students into the class. He has been a huge help and an inspiration to continue pursuing my dream of teaching. He also was the person who involved me in the Law Club at Yavapai and has just been a wonderful support all around,” Amanda said.

Teaching psychology and administration of justice at YC is just one of the passions Amanda has acted on in her young life. For nine years and counting she also has directed a healthcare facility for special needs adults and children.  “I have a huge heart for people with disabilities. I want to help them as much as I want to help the criminal justice system. I can do both, so I’m doing both,” said the 28-year-old -- a 2010 Prescott High School graduate. “It’s all about helping people in different ways.”

When she’s not working, Amanda enjoys spending time with her extended family in the Prescott area and hiking and traveling with her rescue dog, Ari.

Amanda is eager this fall to get back to teaching the subjects she cares about to people who may  themselves care enough to want to change the U.S. justice system. “I believe our system has the potential to be the best in the world. It can be, with the right people, the right motivation and the right ethics. I don’t believe we’re there right now, but we’re working for change.”

The new college instructor has no regrets about choosing teaching over law and believes her grandfather would have no objections either. “I think that he would have been happy with the path that I chose and the reasons why,” she said. “I just really hope that I can make the impact on students that my professors in the past have made on me.”

For information about the YC Administration of Justice program, visit