Monday, June 28, 2010

Innocence Project's Julie Rea Harper case featured

One of the major cases taken by The Downstate Illinois Innocence Project, housed at the University of Illinois Springfield, will be featured in a program, “Mother’s Conviction” airing at 9:00 p.m. Monday, June 28 on the Investigation Discovery series, Unusual Suspects.

The Julie Rea Harper case stands as an example of the breakdown of the criminal justice system in Illinois. Harper was a doctoral student at the University of Indiana when in 1998 she returned to Lawrenceville, IL for a Columbus Day weekend visitation with her 10 year old son Joel. On October 13, Joel was brutally killed in the early morning hours. Law enforcement, with the encouragement of Julie’s ex-husband, immediately focused on Julie. She was eventually convicted in 2002 on totally circumstantial evidence and with little investigation of the leads that an alternative suspect committed the crime.

After Julie’s conviction, the UIS Innocence Project was asked to assist. Project Director of Investigations Bill Clutter knew that there were many leads needing to be pursued. Clutter said: “This case was a travesty from the beginning. The prosecutors withdrew the death penalty in order to deprive Julie of an adequate defense and then turned their backs on the evidence that an intruder, such as serial killer Tommy Lynn Sells, was seen in the area and probably committed the crime.”

The program will feature the events which led author Diane Fanning, an author writing a book on Sells, to help obtain his confession allowing the Innocence Project to reopen the case. Prosecutors refused to accept Sell’s confession and in a retrial in July 2006, with evidence generated by the Project, Julie Rea Harper was found innocent by a Carlyle, IL jury.

The Downstate Illinois Innocence Project works to assist those who have been convicted, but are actually innocent and to develop policy proposals that would help prevent the conviction of innocent persons in the future. The Project uses students to help in its investigations. UIS students played significant roles in the development of the evidence in the Julie Rea Harper case.

On TV: Check local listings for the Discovery ID Channel. Found on Comcast Cable channel 471 in Springfield, Dish Network channel 192, DirecTV channel 285.

For more information, contact Project Director Larry Golden at 217/553-7171 or Discovery Channel’s Deborah Gottschalk at 240/662-2930.

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