The Downstate Illinois Innocence Project, housed at the University of Illinois Springfield, will hold its third Defenders of the Innocent Awards Reception from 5 to 7 p.m. on Monday, May 24, at the Governor’s Mansion in Springfield. The featured guest at the reception will be exoneree Rolando Cruz. The event is open to the public; however, purchase of tickets and reservations are required by calling 217/206-7989.
Rolando Cruz, along with his co-defendant Alejandro Hernandez, were wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death for the brutal murder of 10-year-old Jeanine Nicarico of Naperville in 1983. Cruz’s case resulted in three trials even in the face of a confession from the true killer, Brian Dugan.
“The case stands as the most important example of prosecutorial misconduct in recent American legal history,” said Larry Golden, director of the Innocence Project.
Cruz will introduce three individuals who believed an injustice was occurring in his case and attempted to pursue the truth in the face of the forces of state authority. Each will be given a Profiles in Courage Award for the courage they displayed and the sacrifices they made. Mary Brigid Hayes (formerly Kenney) resigned as Assistant Attorney General for her refusal to accept the Illinois Attorney General’s order to continue to try Cruz in the face of evidence of his innocence. Former DuPage County Sheriff John Sam also resigned and gave up his law enforcement career for his insistence on following other leads in the case due to his belief that Cruz and Hernandez did not kill young Nicarico. Former Illinois State Police Commander Edward Cisowski retired from his position as a result of superiors interfering in his follow-up on the Dugan lead, which yielded the confession.
“Each of them sacrificed their careers in the pursuit of truth and justice in the face of a team of prosecutors and law enforcers who were intent on convicting Cruz and Hernandez. They are true role models for American justice,” said Golden praising the three recipients as heroes.
A Pro Bono Award will be presented to Feldman, Wasser, Draper & Cox - for their work on the Thomas McMillen case. McMillen was convicted of the 1989 Sangamon County murder of Melissa Koontz, but has always maintained his innocence.
Gates, Wise & Schlosser, P.C. will also be presented with a Pro Bono Award for their work on the Slover case. Michael Slover, Jr. and his parents, Michael Sr. and Jeannette Slover were convicted in the 1996 Macon County murder of Karyn Slover. The Slovers were convicted despite the lack of any physical evidence or any kind of coherent theory on how they could have committed this crime.
Bill Clutter, the project’s director of investigations, who worked on both cases with Peter Wise, Stan Wasser and Howard Feldman, said, “It is the generosity and determination of lawyers like them that can lead to freeing innocent people from prison who do not have the resources to defend themselves. They are true champions of justice and deserve this recognition.”
The Downstate Illinois Innocence Project works to assist the wrongfully convicted and to develop policy proposals that would help prevent the conviction of innocent persons in the future. This awards reception is the third annual event to recognize individuals and organizations who have worked to help achieve those goals.
For more information, contact Larry Golden at 217/553-7171 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. You many also visit the Innocence Project website at www.uis.edu/innocenceproject/