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UIS Downstate Illinois Innocence Project announces initiative to establish state Innocence Commission

April 13, 2005

SPRINGFIELD - The Downstate Illinois Innocence Project at the University of Illinois at Springfield announced an initiative to establish a state Innocence Commission during a news conference held Wednesday, April 13, at the Statehouse. The conference followed a presentation to the Illinois Senate by Dr. Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, the former middleweight boxer who spent more than 20 years in prison before being exonerated for crimes he did not commit. Since his release, Carter has become a legal crusader and advocate for civil rights around the world.

Larry Golden, UIS professor emeritus of Political Studies and Legal Studies and co-director of the Innocence Project, said that the announcement marked the “beginning of an initiative to explore the need and viability of an Innocence Commission for the state of Illinois.

“Illinois has been a leader in its response to issues of innocence and the death penalty,” Golden said. “We are asking that Illinois continue its leadership role by also responding to the large numbers of individuals who are serving lengthy prison sentences and who are also innocent.  In the coming months we will be engaging in research and analysis for legislators interested in proposing specific legislation that will allow review and intervention by an independent body in cases where there is good reason to believe the individual is innocent in order to prevent their lengthy incarceration.”

Golden cited the example of Keith Harris, the first person assisted by the Downstate Innocence Project, who was convicted based on mistaken eyewitness identification and remained in prison despite the development of evidence showing his innocence.

“Although Illinois police investigators attempted to get Harris’ case reviewed, prosecutors refused and continued to advocate his incarceration,” said Golden. “He had to pursue lengthy court appeals and achieved exoneration only after being let out of prison by bringing his case to the Governor’s Prison Review Board with the support of the Innocence Project.”  Harris was exonerated by Gov. George Ryan in 2003 after spending 22 years in prison.

“It is cases like this and like Julie Rea Harper, who prosecutors also continue to try despite ample evidence of her innocence, that need to be addressed within our system,” Golden continued. “The Innocence Project will provide legislators with information about Innocence Commission initiatives around the world.  We will also examine the operation of the Illinois criminal justice system, especially in non-capital cases, to help policy-makers determine what changes might be necessary to bring the system closer to its stated goals of justice and fairness for all.”

UIS’ Downstate Illinois Innocence Project is housed within the Institute for Legal and Policy Studies. Under its auspices, students in Legal Studies and other degree programs provide research and investigative assistance to individuals who have been arrested, tried, found guilty, and imprisoned for crimes the Project believes they did not commit.

For further information, contact Golden at 553-7171 or Innocence Project investigator Bill Clutter at 899-4353.



    The University of Illinois at Springfield, one of three U of I campuses, is a small, public liberal arts university that offers 42 degree programs – 21 bachelor’s, 20 master’s, and the Doctorate of Public Administration. UIS has a special mission in public affairs and service and is known for extraordinary internships, a wireless campus, extensive online offerings, and a commitment to teaching.