FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                Date: February 11, 2002

         Contact: Donna McCracken, 206-6716

UIS’ Downstate Illinois Innocence Project recognized

SPRINGFIELD – The Downstate Innocence Project, housed in the Center for Legal Studies at the University of Illinois at Springfield, was honored at the National Innocence Project conference held in San Diego in mid-January.  UIS was recognized as having the only established undergraduate innocence project in the country.

Representing UIS at the conference were Larry Golden, professor of Political Studies and Legal Studies (LES), Joy Gosnell, LES graduate student, and Bill Clutter, local private investigator and LES graduate.

At the three-day conference, held at California Western School of Law, a coalition of some 30 groups gathered to call for reform of the criminal justice system. Though participants celebrated the announcement of the one-hundredth convict exonerated by the National Project, many believe that number represents only a fraction of those wrongly held. Overturning a conviction is difficult, however. Volunteer attorneys who typically review these cases receive more claims than they can handle, and key evidence has been lost or destroyed in about 75 percent of the cases. 

Under the auspices of the Downstate Innocence Project, students in UIS’ Legal Studies program who are nearing completion of their undergraduate degrees work to provide research and investigative assistance to individuals who have been arrested, tried, found guilty, and imprisoned for crimes they most likely did not commit. The UIS program is modeled after Northwestern University’s Center on Wrongful Convictions and the Innocence Project at Cardozo Law School in New York.

This semester, Golden, Gosnell, and Clutter are working with students in the undergraduate closing seminar Wrongful Convictions on at least three cases. All cases presently under investigation were referred by local attorneys, the Northwestern Center for Wrongful Conviction, or the Office of the Appellate Defender of the State of Illinois.

The Innocence Project received a grant from the Illinois Campus Compact last fall to assist student research in these efforts.  Nancy Ford, associate professor of Legal Studies, is helping to lead this project along with Golden and Clutter.

For more information about the Downstate Innocence Project, contact Golden at (217) 206-7885.