Defenders of the Innocent Second Annual Awards Reception: Tribute to Metnick

Tribute to Michael B. Metnick

Michael B. MetnickOn May 18, Springfield attorney Michael B. Metnick received the Defenders of the Innocent award from the Downstate Illinois Innocence Project (DIIP) for his tireless commitment to justice.

Below you can read some of the tributes given to him during the awards reception.


Randy SteidlRandy Steidl
Exonerated in 2004
speaking in tribute to Michael B. Metnick

Defender of the Innocent, May 18, 2009

I am here to speak for one particular person who met me at one of my lowest points: Mike Metnick.

In 1992, just after I had lost my direct appeal, Mike and Bill Clutter, his investigator, came to see me. I told him my story, looked him right in the eye, and he looked me in the eye back and said, “I like the case.” He patted me on the back.

I didn’t think much of that until our first appearance in court. Through our post conviction proceedings, many, many years of post-conviction proceedings, Mike Metnick laid the foundation for over nine years of state post-conviction.

He is still after 18 years, my attorney. He told me he would be my attorney for life, and I believe that.

Mike Metnick is a true crusader for justice and the innocent. He is THE defender of the innocent. My family considers him family. Mike, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Larry MarshallLarry Marshall
Stanford Law Professor and Co-Founder of the
Center on Wrongful Convictions
speaking in tribute to Michael B. Metnick

Defender of the Innocent, May 18, 2009

The moment I recall when I think about Mike and all these years of relationship happened in Rock Island, Illinois.

A jury had convicted [Alejandro Hernandez], and then they tried the case to a hung jury, and then they came back again and tried it a third time.

And I remember, this man, somewhat small in stature–but only in the most physical way, because that day the space that he occupied in the courtroom was the stature of a prophet, the stature of a Biblical figure. He stood up there, his voice cracking with passion, talking about the dearth of evidence against this man, against his friend.

Mike went through that evidence methodically as a good lawyer would do, but then Mike recognized that this wasn’t about technicalities of law.

This was, in fact, about morality. It was about justice.

Mike begged the jury to understand that we are in this common circle of life, that we are within each other’s circle of empathy, and that if we don’t cry out, then ultimately the world ends up being one mired by injustice. And not only is that immoral from a deep perspective, but it is obviously dangerous as well.

Tragically, the jury came back with that word guilty, the crush that Mike felt was as crushing as if this had been his own child because that is the extent to which this circle of empathy, so clearly, so centrally included this defendant and so many other defendants.

I tell my students, “This is what lawyers can do. This is how much you can care, and this is how much you can accomplish.” Look at Metnick. Look at the Dominican Sisters. Look at the power that individuals have and recognize that the only obstacle to progress is a misperceived sense of impotence. We all have an opportunity to be partners in this effort.