SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - The Illinois Innocence Project, housed at the University of Illinois Springfield, helped Anthony Murray, 40, of Chicago gain his freedom Tuesday. This is the fifth case where the project has helped a wrongfully convicted individual gain his or her freedom.
Murray was previously convicted of first degree murder 14 years ago for his alleged involvement in the death of Seneca Jones of downstate Centralia, Ill. He was sentenced to 45 years in prison. Murray is expected to be released Wednesday from the Illinois Department of Corrections.
In order to gain his freedom, he reluctantly accepted a plea for second degree murder and was released based on time served in prison. The plea, called an Alford Plea, allows an individual to gain freedom by pleading guilty to a lesser offense, while still maintaining innocence for the crime he/she is entering a plea. Murray has maintained his innocence throughout, but indicated he had served 14 years in prison, during which 15 relatives and friends had died, and he just wanted to go home to his mother and family.
“Given new evidence of Anthony’s innocence, it is clear that Anthony was not even at the scene of the murder,” said Larry Golden, executive director of the Illinois Innocence Project. “The original conviction was an injustice that should never have occurred. While we are pleased that Anthony can walk out of prison, he should have been able to do so as a fully exonerated person. This is just another injustice allowed by a criminal justice system badly in need of reform.”
Murray asked for the help of the Illinois Innocence Project, which engaged in an in-depth investigation of his case. That investigation yielded new and corroborating evidence of Murray’s innocence in the crime. However, the Marion County States Attorney insisted that Murray take the plea in order to be released.
Many students and staff from UIS, the Southern Illinois University Law School, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign College of Law, some of whom were present Tuesday, worked on Murray’s case under the overall supervision of Illinois Innocence Project Legal Director John Hanlon who led the effort to gain Murray’s release.
This is the second time this year that the Illinois Innocence Project has freed an innocent person for a crime they did not commit. The Project continues to work on 25 additional cases. It recently changed its name from the Downstate Illinois Innocence Project to the Illinois Innocence Project to reflect the fact that it is now accepting cases throughout Illinois in collaboration with the three Illinois public law schools at Northern Illinois University, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Southern Illinois University.
For more information on the exoneration, contact Illinois Innocence Project Legal Director John Hanlon at 217/206-8558.
The Illinois Innocence Project (IIP) has a three-part mission: to evaluate and investigate cases for credible claims of an Illinois inmate's actual innocence, and, when appropriate, provide legal representation and/or other assistance toward proving the inmate's actual innocence; to encourage meaningful reforms toward preventing the conviction of innocent persons in the future; and to educate the public and provide important educational and experiential opportunities for students about wrongful convictions. Visit www.uis.edu/innocenceproject for additional information.