When Jonathan Grayson went to the Kane County courthouse on March 6, he wasn’t expecting to walk out a free man. The 30-year-old had spent 10 years in prison for murder, and he still had another 65 years of prison ahead.
But Grayson didn’t commit the murder that led to his incarceration, and on March 6, a Kane County judge overturned his conviction.
“When I first shook his hand, he was still in disbelief,” says Steven Schott, a third-year law student at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Schott is part of the Illinois Innocence Project, a group of students, professors and attorneys based at the University of Illinois Springfield which works to free from prison people who are convicted of crimes they didn’t commit.
“He walked into court that day thinking he was going to remain in prison, but he walked out a free man,” Schott says. “He’s starting to get back into society. It’s pretty great.”
Grayson, formerly known as Jonathan Moore, was convicted in 2002 of the Aurora murder of Shaun Miller and the attempted murder of Leroy Starks. Starks identified Grayson as the shooter from a photo lineup, and Grayson was convicted and sentenced to 75 years in prison. But in 2011, Aurora police discovered new evidence that Grayson wasn’t the shooter. Responding to a report of shootings in an east Aurora neighborhood, the police recovered a 9mm pistol later matched to the bullets that killed Miller in 2000. Grayson had spent 10 years in prison while the real killer apparently roamed free.
Grayson’s exoneration is the fourth for the Illinois Innocence Project, and it marks several changes for the group, now in its 11th year. Formerly known as the Downstate Illinois Innocence Project, the group has dropped “Downstate” from its name, signaling its expansion statewide. To facilitate that expansion, the project is joining forces with the state’s three public law schools, which also allows for a larger caseload. Meanwhile, the project has added two full-time lawyers and one part-time lawyer, providing valuable legal guidance to the quickly growing body of students involved in gaining justice for the wrongly convicted.
The Illinois Innocence Project started in 2001, in response to a call-to-arms by Barry Scheck, a New York attorney. Though Scheck is perhaps most famous for his role on O.J. Simpson’s defense team, he is considered one of the forefathers of innocence projects in the United States. At a 1998 conference in Chicago, Scheck urged attorneys, judges and professors around the U.S. to establish a network of innocence projects to deal with the emerging problem of wrongful convictions.
Three people in Springfield responded to that call in 2001, establishing a small but focused project at UIS.
Read full article here…