On May 18, supporters of the Downstate Illinois Innocence Project (DIIP) gathered to honor two recipients who have been tireless in their support of justice:
As part of the reception, two UIS students--both now alumni--received special tributes from the podium: Samantha Gaddy, Larry Golden and Samantha Gaddyrecipient of a special Defenders of the Innocent Award--you can read her remarks below--and Matt Smith.
We have been fortunate for the past few years—from what seems like the beginning—to have a young woman of extraordinary qualities working with us. Starting as a volunteer, she became the graduate assistant in our program. We have worked together, cried together, and had the privilege of watching her grow during all this time.
This semester she has been interning at the Attorney General’s office, working on legislative relations, but she is graduating, and she is looking for new opportunities. We will be wishing her success in her next endeavor.
Tonight we want to recognize and honor her work with a 2009 special Defender of the Innocent award to Samantha Gaddy for service and dedication to the Downstate Illinois Innocence Project.
I have been with the Innocence Project since 2005 and leaving is going to be really bittersweet because they have all become like a family to me. I can't talk too long because I am going to cry! It has really been great.
I don't understand how people can sleep at night knowing that innocent people are in prison. As I told ABC not that long ago, if it can happen to them, it can happen to anybody, and it can happen to me. So I feel like I really need to work for those people.
Martin Luther King once said, "In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends." So I feel like I really need to speak up and try to help people who cannot help themselves.
This organization could not exist without the assistance we have received over many years from students working tirelessly for the exoneration of the wrongfully convicted. Keith Harris, who is talks very strongly about the contribution of students is in fact here tonight with one of our earliest students from the Project, Matt Smith.
Matt Smith worked on Keith's case, and they have been friends ever since. Matt lives down around the St. Louis area and Keith in Bellville, and they stay in touch, and when Keith comes up, he almost always comes up with Matt. In a sense, they are part of a family, and it is just a wonderful thing to see from a student coming out of the university. This was not his career and still is not his career, but it was part of what was in his heart. Matt, we can always be thankful to you, as Keith is, for the work that you have done.