Monday, November 15, 2010

UIS Downstate Illinois Innocence Project receives major grant to use DNA testing in actual cases



The University of Illinois Springfield’s Downstate Illinois Innocence Project with the support of the UIS Center for State Policy and Leadership has been awarded a $687,448 grant to clear downstate Illinois innocence cases where DNA testing might decide the outcome. U.S. Senator Dick Durbin helped to facilitate the grant, which is one of the largest in UIS’ history.

The United States Department of Justice Bloodsworth Grant, named in honor of Kirk Bloodsworth, the first DNA death penalty exoneration case in the U.S. in 1993, will provide funding for DNA laboratories to conduct testing, investigators to locate evidence and attorneys to represent inmates in filing post-conviction DNA testing motions.

“In Illinois, we’ve seen firsthand how innocent people can get their lives back by taking advantage of post-conviction DNA testing to solve old cases and exonerate the wrongly convicted,” Durbin said. “The Downstate Illinois Innocence Project has worked to ensure fairness and accuracy in the justice system, including directly participating in three exonerations.”

The project will initially focus on 30 cases out of over 400 requests it has received. Those 30 cases will be further reviewed to determine if the evidence can be tested or retested for DNA and if the likelihood is that the individual is actually innocent of the crime for which they were convicted.

"As of today 261 individuals nationwide have been exonerated using DNA testing. Thirty of those are already from Illinois," said Larry Golden of the UIS Downstate Illinois Innocence Project. "The backlog on requests for testing is huge. We know that DNA is the most important forensic tool to identify or exclude a perpetrator of a crime. This grant will give the project the resources to follow up with investigation and DNA testing of the many requests we have from people who may actually be innocent."

As part of the grant, the project is collaborating with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign College of Law and the Southern Illinois University Law School to have students assist in the review of the cases and the filing of motions to have the evidence tested. The Innocence Project is housed in the UIS Center for State Policy and Leadership, which assists in bringing grant money to campus.

“This grant epitomizes the good that can be done by linking academic and student opportunities with real world problem solving,” said David Racine, interim executive director of the center. “The grant will allow even more UIS students to participate in and learn from the project’s important work. We plan to build on the grant to obtain even greater support for the students and faculty of the campus.”

Bloodsworth is scheduled to visit the UIS campus and speak on the topic of wrongful convictions on Tuesday, November 30, 2010 from 6:30 to 8 p.m. in Brookens Auditorium, located on the lower level of Brookens Library. The event is free and open to the public.

For more information contact Larry Golden at 217/553-7171 or email lgold1@uis.edu. More information about the Innocence Project can be found on their website at www.uis.edu/innocenceproject/.

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