By Maureen McKinney
The Downstate Innocence Project at the University of Illinois Springfield has received a $687,000 federal grant to work on cases where DNA testing might clear the accused.
The project, founded in 2001, has provided investigation and research help in efforts that helped lead to the exoneration of three wrongfully convicted Illinoisans. The project has identified about 30 cases to further investigate whether DNA testing could lead to exoneration, says Larry Golden, the Innocence Project's director. “The grant gives us the resources to go into these past cases.”
The Bloodsworth Grant from the U.S. Department of Justice pays for evaluation of cases, DNA laboratory tests, investigation and legal representation in post-conviction DNA testing motions. UIS’ project was one of four -- and the largest -- to receive a Bloodsworth Grant this year, Golden said. Specifically, UIS’ project will use the money to pay for testing; evaluating cases to determine which should be pursued further; providing legal assistance, including a lawyer, who would serve as project coordinator; and buying the time of Bill Clutter, the project’s director of investigations.
Students from the Southern Illinois University and University of Illinois law schools will work to narrow down which cases should be pursued further, Golden says.
In 1997, according to the project, Illinois became one of the first states in the country to adopt legislation giving convicted individuals access to DNA testing. A decade later, the state legislature allowed for DNA retesting, recognizing improvements in test methods.
Golden, who has worked pro bono as project’s director since he retired from UIS in 2004, says he estimates that in-kind contributions to the project are worth $200,000 to $250,000 and that the project has operated with $50,000 in “hard money.”
His greatest fear, he says, is that the grant money will dissuade future funders.