Over the last academic year alone, the Exoneration Project has exonerated 32 people—meaning their convictions were overturned on the basis of newly discovered evidence of their innocence. This includes 29 individuals in the ever-expanding scandal related to disgraced former Chicago Police Sgt. Ronald Watts and his corrupt tactical team. Each of these 29 men has since been certified innocent and received orders for state compensation related to their wrongful convictions as a result of the efforts of our students’ litigation. A state court has called the scandal “one of the most staggering cases of police misconduct in the history of Chicago”—a scandal our students have and continue to expose.
In addition to exonerations, two other individuals with long prison sentences have had their convictions vacated on the basis of newly discovered evidence through the work of our students. On May 1, 2019, a court ordered Justin Black’s conviction vacated on the basis of powerful new evidence pointing to an alternative perpetrator. Mr. Black served more than 11 years in prison. Just six weeks later, on June 14, 2019, an Illinois Appellate Court vacated the conviction of our client John Galvan nearly 33 years after his arrest. Our students played an instrumental role in uncovering the evidence and trial and appellate briefing for both Mr. Black and Mr. Galvan.
Our students have also gotten extensive in-court work over the last academic year. Students put on witnesses and presented argument in multiple court hearings, including for our clients Andre Brown, Bernard McKinley, and John Horton. In Mr. Horton’s case, after an extensive two-day evidentiary hearing, a Rockford court certified Mr. Horton innocent nearly 25 years after his wrongful arrest. In Mr. McKinley’s case, a court greatly reduced his sentence.
Students have also written innumerable trial and appellate briefs for litigation that remains ongoing, taken affidavits or interviewed witnesses for ongoing investigations, and engaged in a host of other efforts for our clients. This includes negotiating for the release of our long-time innocent client Ricardo Rodriguez who remained in custody due to immigration-related issues despite his actual exoneration. Due to our students’ creative advocacy, Mr. Rodriguez was freed this academic year and allowed to stay in the United States.