Watching his dad face cancer inspired Aaron Oliphant to face injustice, seek remedies for wrongful conviction 

On Father’s Day, Montana Innocence Project client Aaron Oliphant steadies himself for one more year apart from his father and his children. 

Aaron Oliphant at age 12 with his dad Gary Oliphant (Photo courtesy of Rena Oliphant)

Aaron has four sons. His family used to call him “Mr. Mom” for his dedication to his kids.

“He was just so good with the kids, and that’s all he wanted to do,” Aaron’s dad, Gary Oliphant, said. “He would rather be at home with the kids than do anything else. He was a very, very good father. I can’t express that enough.”

Aaron was wrongfully convicted of assaulting one of his sons in 2017 based on the controversial and unproven theory of Shaken Baby Syndrome. No one would blame Aaron for losing hope, but he never has—a mentality he says he learned from his dad.  

A year after his wrongful conviction, Gary Oliphant called him at the prison to tell him the devastating news: he had been diagnosed with stage four melanoma. 

“I honestly didn’t think I would ever see him again,” Aaron said. “Me and him had a lot of conversations that I really didn’t want to have in here. There was a lot of me sitting around and thinking that I was never going to get out and be there. Or that he wouldn’t be there anymore. I didn’t know what to do.”

Gary has been in and out of the hospital Aaron’s entire life. But even with cancer, he found a way to make it through and maintain a positive and hopeful outlook. 

“I guess it’s just how I’ve always been,” Gary said. “I’m going to live until I die, and that’s all there is. My wife keeps telling me that she’s going to keep dragging me on.”

Rena Oliphant, Aaron’s mom, said they’ve always tried to teach Aaron to see the glass as half full.

“The talk about the cancer was very scary especially at the beginning because they said that without treatment, Gary only had a few months,” Rena said. “But he watched how his dad handled it. Let’s do it. Let’s get through it. But let’s also try to be the best we can and find the good out of it. And that’s always what we’ve tried to teach Aaron.”

Gary inspired Aaron to seek solutions for his wrongful conviction. Aaron learned about the Montana Innocence Project through other inmates at the Montana State Prison, and with his dad’s voice in the back of his mind telling him to “just do it,” he applied for our services.

Gary and Aaron at the NICU with Raidyn (Photo courtesy of Rena Oliphant)

“He just never gives up,” Aaron said. “He’s never said, ‘Well, I’m done. I’m screwed.’ He’s always like, ‘Well, let’s try this. Let’s keep going. Even if I only have a week, I’ll make it a fun week.’ If he can’t give up with all of that, then there’s no way I can give up with this.” 

We took on Aaron’s case around the same time Gary got the news he was responding positively to treatment and he was as close to remission as possible, considering the advanced stage of his cancer. 

“It was always one thing after another,” Aaron said. “And then I got that news, and it seems like finally, everything’s kind of been going back uphill. You know, with y’all working with me and with him getting better. It’s been a steady climb up.”

When asked what they are looking forward to doing together most when Aaron is released from wrongful incarceration, Aaron and Gary had the same answer: having a barbecue.

That’s always been one of my dad’s favorite things, so I really look forward to just sitting out on the porch with him,” Aaron said.

Click here to read more about Aaron’s wrongful conviction and how we are fighting for his freedom.