About Us

The Illinois Innocence Project (IIP) is dedicated to releasing innocent men and women imprisoned in Illinois for crimes they did not commit. We advocate on behalf of this silenced population by researching and investigating claims of innocence, and providing legal representation and other assistance to prove credible claims of actual innocence.

The Project reviews over 300 requests for help from Illinois inmates each year. Undergraduates at the University of Illinois Springfield, and law students from the state’s three public law schools, work alongside and at the direction of IIP attorneys to review, evaluate and, where strong evidence of actual innocence exists, investigate and legally pursue claims of innocence.

To date, the Project has been intimately involved in the freeing of eight innocent individuals who were wrongfully imprisoned in Illinois.


IIP was founded in 2001 as the “Downstate Innocence Project” at the University of Illinois Springfield, where the Project continues to reside. A handful of Legal Studies Program students began investigating cases of individuals who were actually innocent of a serious crimes for which they were convicted and serving life or death sentences. (In 2011, Governor Pat Quinn abolished the death penalty, ending the state’s 232-year history of capital punishment.)

During the next 10 years, Project students assisted outside attorneys in securing the release of three individuals: Keith Harris in 2003, Julie Rea in 2004 and Herb Whitlock in 2008.

A federal grant in 2011 enabled IIP to hire its first attorney and begin providing direct representation to inmates to prove their innocence. The Project changed its name to the “Illinois” Innocence Project when it received a second DOJ grant in 2012 that expanded its work statewide.

Since 2012 IIP’s work has led to the release of five additional clients: Anthony Murray in 2012; John Grayson in 2012; Peggy Jo Jackson in 2013; Christopher Abernathy in 2015; and Angel Gonzalez in 2015.


IIP is staffed by one full-time executive/legal director, one full-time attorney, one part-time attorney and one full-time assistant.

The staff who work on these cases are committed to remedying the injustice of wrongful convictions:

John J. Hanlon, Legal DirectorJohn J. Hanlon
Executive Director and Legal Director

Read more about John J. Hanlon »


larryLarry Golden
Founding Director

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Gwen JordanImage of Attorney Gwen Jordan
Staff Attorney

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Lauren KaesebergLauren-Kaeseberg-headshot
Staff Attorney

Read more about Lauren Kaeseberg »