|Illinois Innocence Project (IIP) exoneree Charles Palmer and his wife Deborah stand as IIP Executive Director John Hanlon accepts the Joe Slaw Civil Rights Award from the NAACP Decatur Branch. Photo by Dennis Rumme.
In November 2016, the Project was instrumental in the exoneration of Charles Palmer, a Decatur resident, who was wrongly convicted of a 1998 murder and imprisoned for 18 years for a crime he did not commit.
The Illinois Innocence Project successfully litigated DNA testing of an unknown person’s tissue, which was found under the victim’s fingernails, and another person’s hair in his hand. Both samples went untested prior to trial. Upon testing by the Illinois Innocence Project, both DNA samples were found not to match Palmer.
“The award has existed for more than 30 years, yet this is the first time we are bestowing it upon a group based outside of the Decatur community,” said Jeanelle Norman, NAACP Decatur Branch president. “The NAACP believes the service of the Illinois Innocence Project was of such magnitude that the Decatur community moved one giant step forward in criminal justice.”
Since its founding in 2001, the Illinois Innocence Project has helped to free 10 wrongly convicted individuals.
“All of us at IIP and UIS are extremely grateful to receive this prestigious award from an organization as critically important to communities and our country as the NAACP in Decatur,” said John J. Hanlon, executive director of the Illinois Innocence Project. “We are proud of our work and of the result in Charles Palmer’s case, and equally proud to be the first recipient of this award from outside Decatur.”
“We find strength in organizations, such as the NAACP, whose work has a common purpose with ours – the fight for justice, often against difficult odds,” added Hanlon. “We thank the NAACP in Decatur for this award and pledge to continue that fight.”
The Illinois Innocence Project is dedicated to releasing innocent men and women imprisoned in Illinois for crimes they did not commit. They research and investigate claims of innocence and provide legal representation and other assistance to prove credible claims of actual innocence.
The Project reviews more than 300 requests for help from Illinois inmates each year. Undergraduate students at the University of Illinois Springfield and law students from the state’s three public law schools work with IIP attorneys to review, evaluate and, where strong evidence of actual innocence exists, investigate and legally pursue claims of innocence.