Thursday, April 4, 2013

UIS Illinois Innocence Project to honor three with Defenders of the Innocent Awards

The Illinois Innocence Project at the University of Illinois Springfield will honor Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn, University of Illinois College of Law Professor J. Steven Beckett, and project volunteer Kiran Desai with Defenders of the Innocent Awards during their sixth annual reception. The event will take place on Saturday, April 6, 2013 from 6:00 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. at the Artisans Building on the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield.

Eric Zorn has been a powerful force exposing flaws of the criminal justice system and informing the public with his columns in the Chicago Tribune. Zorn covered the infamous Jeanine Nicarico case and the wrongful convictions of Alex Hernandez and Rolando Cruz in over 100 columns. He chronicled the saga of Herb Whitlock’s and Randy Steidl’s wrongful convictions. He permeated the political rhetoric with his coverage of Juan Rivera’s wrongful conviction. Zorn chronicled the death penalty abolition movement and exposed the flaws of the criminal justice system. His and the Chicago Tribune’s reporting advance the cause of wrongful convictions and inform the public, adding pressure needed to reform the criminal justice system.

Professor J. Steven Beckett is the director of Trial Advocacy at the University of Illinois College of Law. In addition to teaching about trial advocacy, client counseling, evidence and white-collar crime, he serves as a liaison for students enrolled in the Illinois Innocence Project course and externship. He is the lead counsel of a team of three attorneys who individually represent the Slover family. Professor Beckett has donated countless pro bono hours to advance their case.

Kiran Desai first began volunteering with the Illinois Innocence Project in 2012. He brings years of experience working professionally in the data management field and is able to apply that knowledge to assist with managing large amounts of data for grant reporting, client management, and other office needs. Desai is passionate about seeking justice and is a faithful and reliable volunteer, often the first in the office each morning. Besides his invaluable contribution in the project’s office, he also attends court visits and presentations by project exonerees.

Illinois Innocence Project exonerees Keith Harris, Julia Rea, Herb Whitlock, and Anthony Murray plan to attend the event. Murray will be speaking as will Juan Rivera, a Center on Wrongful Convictions exoneree.

The event is open to the public, however registration is encouraged. A tax-deductible donation of $100 is suggested for those purchasing tickets. A shuttle will be provided from the Fairground’s Happy Hollow parking lot. The event will feature substantial hors d’oeuvres, a silent auction, and cash bar. To register, please call 217/206-6058 or visit

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