Wrongfully Convicted Man Released After 24 Years, Thanks to Exoneration Project, Alumni

Meredith Heagney
Law School Office of Communications
June 1, 2012

Yesterday, James Kluppelberg was a free man for the first time in 24 years. He walked out of the Menard Correctional Center in southern Illinois alongside his lawyer, Karl Leonard, '09, after a Cook County judge and prosecutors agreed he was wrongfully convicted of murder and arson.

Leonard started working on Kluppelberg's case with the Exoneration Project at the Law School while he was a student. After graduation, he continued to partner with the clinic on the case as an associate at Winston & Strawn LLP.

In 1990, Kluppelberg was sentenced to life in prison for a 1984 fire that killed six people. After years of working with the Exoneration Project to secure his freedom, he received the almost too-good-to-be-true call from Leonard on Wednesday: The prosecution was dismissing the case.

Kluppelberg’s attorneys successfully argued that key witnesses in the prosecution lied, and that early explanations of how the fire was started are scientifically impossible. Students working with the Exoneration Project also uncovered evidence that another person may have been involved in starting the fire, evidence not previously disclosed to Kluppelberg.

The Exoneration Project, one of the Law School’s clinics, noted that 2008 alumnae Ashley Schumacher and Cadence Mertz also deserve credit for their work on Kluppelberg's case.

Today, the Chicago Tribune published a story about the many challenges Kluppelberg faces now, and details about his case and time in prison. It features video taken of Kluppelberg immediately after his release.