April 02, 2013

Former inmate Anthony Murray will speak April 5

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- A former Illinois prison inmate who received help from the Illinois Innocence Project to gain his release last fall will share his experiences this week at Southern Illinois University School of Law.

Anthony Murray, who spent 14 years in prison before his release in October, will speak at noon, Friday, April 5, in the Hiram H. Lesar Law Building courtroom at SIU Carbondale.  The lecture is free and open to the public.

Media Advisory

Reporters, photographers and camera crews are welcome to cover the lecture. To make arrangements for interviews or for more information on the lecture, contact Judi Ray, assistant dean for administration, student services and institutional advancement, at 618/453-8135.  Erica Nichols Cook, staff attorney with the Illinois Innocence Project, will be available in addition to either Larry Golden, founding director, or John Hanlon, the project’s legal/executive director.

Currently, 10 SIU law school students are working with the Illinois Innocence Project in efforts to assist wrongfully convicted prisoners prove their innocence and reform the state’s criminal justice system.  SIU students have been involved since fall 2010. Two students, Nathan Frisch and Arryn Lash, played key roles in work involving another Innocence Project case -- that of Peggy Jo Jackson, who received executive clemency from Gov. Pat Quinn last week.

The Illinois Innocence Project is a “backstop for the legal system,” said Professor William A. Schroeder, who with assistant law professor Christopher W. Behan oversees the students’ involvement.

“We hope to catch and fix some of the errors,” Schroeder said.

Murray pled no contest last fall to second-degree murder in connection with a 1998 stabbing death of a Centralia man.  Initially convicted of first-degree murder, Murray received a 45-year sentence.  The Alford Plea Murray entered last fall means Murray maintains his innocence and did not admit guilt, but conceded there was enough evidence there to convict him. 

Peggy Jo Jackson initially received a life sentence  in the 1986 murder of her husband, William Jackson of rural Mount Vernon.  Reports are that Jackson’s late brother killed William Jackson; Peggy Jo Jackson was not present, but was found guilty of not trying to stop the murder.

Gov. Quinn commuted Jackson’s sentence to time served, and her clemency was one of 87 that Gov. Quinn granted last week.  The Illinois Innocence Project worked for the past four years on Jackson’s case with the support of the Illinois Clemency Project for Battered Women.

The United States has an “excellent legal system … but nothing made by man works perfectly,” Schroeder said.

“The system sometimes makes mistakes.  There are 2 million people in prison in this country; if even one percent are actually innocent that means there are 20,000 innocent people in prison,” Schroeder said.  “Almost equally disturbing is the fact that incarceration of innocent people means that the actual perpetrator goes undetected, unpunished, and may well be out there continuing to commit serious crimes.”

Murray is the third former prisoner to received help from the Illinois Innocence Project to speak on campus in the last year.  Gordon (Randy) Steidl, who spent 12 of his 17 years on Death Row before winning release in 2004 for a 1986 double murder he did not commit, spoke on campus in April 2012.  Julie Rea, initially convicted in the 1997 murder of her 10-year-old son, spoke on campus in November.  After Rea’s initial conviction, the Illinois Innocence Project corroborated a confession by serial killer Tommy Lynn Sells to the boy’s murder.  A second jury acquitted Rea of the murder, and she subsequently received a Certificate of Innocence.

Law school students from the SIU School of Law and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign work with the Illinois Innocence Project at the University of Illinois Springfield.