The Illinois Innocence Project (IIP) is very pleased to announce that our client Charles Palmer was exonerated and freed on Wednesday November 23, 2016, after 18 years of incarceration for a murder that DNA proved he did not commit.The case involved the 1998 murder of a man in Decatur IL. The victim had expired with an unknown person’s tissue under his fingernails, and another person’s hair in his hand, both of which went untested prior to trial. DNA testing of these items was litigated successfully by the Illinois Innocence Project, over the State’s objection. Ultimately, Y-STR testing showed that the tissue material DNA found under the victim’s fingernails was not that of Palmer. Mitochondrial testing further revealed that the hair found in the victim’s hand was not that of Palmer or the victim himself.
IIP filed a petition seeking a new trial based on this newly discovered DNA evidence. To their credit, the prosecution first agreed that the new evidence warranted a new trial, particularly where the jury had clearly struggled with its verdicts. Indeed, the jury had sent four notes out during deliberations, one of which asked for direction because they were “deadlocked”, and the others of which asked for the testimony of the all the key witnesses. The jury deliberated for 13 hours before finding Charles Palmer guilty of murder, but not guilty of the associated residential burglary. Palmer was sentenced to natural life in prison.
November 23, in court, the prosecution announced that they had decided to dismiss and vacate the entire case, and that Charles Palmer should be released immediately. The prosecutor advised the court that the police had begun a new investigation, and that as a result, he had concluded that “the totality of the evidence in this case shows that another person was involved in the physical attack upon William Helmbacher, which led to his death,” the State’s Attorney said in a news release. “For that reason, justice demands that the case against Charles B. Palmer be dismissed”.
This case exemplified true teamwork by the Illinois Innocence Project. Six students from the University of Illinois Springfield, along with numerous IIP staffers and volunteers, worked on this case over the years, along with another six law school students from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign College of Law.
The news article linked below provides further information about the case, and also includes still photographs and video from the final court proceeding itself.