Over the past year, the Exoneration Project has continued its work to free wrongfully convicted individuals across the United States. This included litigation in state and federal courts, petitions for clemency, and many other forms of advocacy on behalf of our clients.
Over the course of 2022-23, the Exoneration Project achieved extraordinary successes on behalf of its clients. Exoneration Project students played an essential role in the successes achieved by the Exoneration Project over the past year. Students participated in evidentiary hearings, put on witnesses, prepared witnesses to testify, participated in witness interviews, visited clients in prison, drafted petitions and other motions that were filed in state and federal trial and appellate courts, etc.
The Exoneration Project succeeded in exonerating a significant number of clients over the past year, reuniting wrongfully convicted men and women with their families.
This includes cases involving disgraced former Chicago Police Detective Reynaldo Guevara. In his tenure as a Chicago Detective, Guevara manipulated, coerced, framed, and tortured dozens of innocent people. His actions decimated families, strained communities, and caused dozens of Black and Brown men and women to be torn from their lives and wrongly incarcerated for decades. Over the past year, the Exoneration Project was involved in the exoneration of several Guevara victims:
- Eruby Abrego (served 23 years in prison of a 90-year sentence). Exoneration Project students were heavily involved in the litigation of the evidentiary hearing that resulted in this exoneration. Students gave opening statements, put on witnesses, and prepared pleadings. Following the exoneration, students have been involved in the ongoing litigation of Mr. Abrego’s Petition for a Certificate of Innocence, including drafting the petition.
- David Gecht (served 23 years of a 45-year sentence). In exonerating Gecht, the trial court judge told him: “What [Guevara] did was unconscionable and criminal and wrong and you paid the price for it, a horrific, unimaginable price.”
- Rosendo Hernandez (served 26 years of a 75-year sentence)
- Gamalier Rivera (served 22 years of a 45-year sentence)
- John Martinez (served 20 years of a 25-year sentence)
- Richard Kwil (served 23 years of a 30-year sentence)
- Daniel Rodriguez (served entire 25-year sentence (at 50%))
- Edwin Davila (served entire 50-year sentence (at 50%))
In addition, several Exoneration Project clients were included in the first mass exoneration of homicide convictions in the United States. All of these were based on Detective Guevara’s misconduct:
- Alfredo Gonzalez (served 32 years of a life sentence)
- David Lugo (served 26 years of a 50-year sentence)
- Johnny Flores (served 20 years of a 40-year sentence)
- Marilyn Mulero (served 29 years; originally sentenced to death)
In addition to cases involving Detective Guevara, the Exoneration Project secured the exoneration of several other wrongfully convicted individuals following extensive litigation:
- Arthur Almendarez (served 35 years of a life sentence)
- John Galvan (served 35 years of a life sentence)
- David Wright (served 28 years of a life sentence). David Wright visited the EP clinic and discussed his experiences with the students.
- Marcellous Pittman (served 21 years of an 80-year sentence)
- Carl Reed (served 20 years of a 27-year sentence). Exoneration Project students were involved in preparing claims for a post-conviction petition.
- Joseph Janke (served 10 years). Janke’s conviction was vacated following post-conviction litigation handled by the Exoneration Project. The State retried Janke and the Exoneration Project represented him at trial. Janke was found not guilty.
Disgraced former Chicago Police Sergeant Ronald Watts and his team of corrupt officers are responsible for hundreds of false drug convictions. Watts and his team shook down residents of the Ida B. Wells housing projects, planted evidence, and falsely arrested innocent people on bogus drug charges. Watts would later go to prison. To date, more than 200 such convictions have been thrown out in the largest mass exoneration in Chicago history. Over the last several years, the Exoneration Project has spearheaded the effort to bring justice to Watts’ victims. During the last year, six more people that Watts framed have been exonerated:
- Brian Gaines
- Melvin Irving
- Chris Jones
- Dexter Willis
- Charles Slaughter
- Josh King
Certificates of Innocence
The Exoneration Project sought judicial declarations that clients who were previously exonerated were, in fact, innocent. At least 12 Exoneration Project clients were awarded such certificates, often following contested litigation, over the past year.
New Trials Ordered
Following contested litigation and evidentiary hearings, multiple Exoneration Project clients saw their convictions vacated and were granted new trials. Several clients are now free on bond awaiting trial, having spent decades in prison for crimes they did not commit.
This includes George Anderson, who was beaten by notorious former Police Commander Jon Burge. In unusually strong language ordering Anderson a new trial, an Illinois appellate court justice noted that “an injustice never ceases to be an injustice until justice prevails.” Anderson is free on bond awaiting his retrial.
Students have been heavily involved in a matter that the Exoneration Project brought to the attention of the Illinois Governor who commuted our client’s life sentence to parole-eligible.
Students were also heavily involved in representing a quadriplegic client serving a 45-year sentence for a crime he did not commit. The Exoneration Project, together with the Illinois Prison Project, successfully petitioned the Illinois Prisoner Review Board to order our client released from prison pursuant to a statute providing for release of incarcerated individuals suffering from severe medical issues.
The Exoneration Project represents a number of individuals who were sentenced to unconstitutionally long prison terms for crimes allegedly committed when they were juveniles or young adults. Following a contested hearing that involved complicated factual and legal hurdles, the Exoneration Project succeeded in securing a new sentencing hearing for an individual serving an 85-year sentence for a crime allegedly committed when he was 20 years old.
Following a referral by the Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission, the Exoneration Project secured the release of a client who served 23 years of a life sentence.