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Thursday, March 21, 2013 11:04 am

FREE AT LAST

Locked up for 14 years in a southern Illinois prison, Chicago native Anthony Murray made a difficult choice: he took responsibility for a murder he says he didn’t commit in order to secure his release from prison on Oct. 31, 2012. It was a bittersweet day for Murray and the Illinois Innocence Project, based at University of Illinois Springfield. Murray used what’s known as an “Alford plea,” in which an accused person doesn’t admit guilt but does admit that the prosecution could convict him or her in a trial. Though Murray is out from under his original 45-year prison sentence, he is still stuck with a second-degree murder conviction. Murray will be in Springfield next week to speak publicly about his experiences and the challenges he has faced after prison. His presentation is scheduled for 6 p.m. on March 25 in Room 353/Classroom 3F of the Public Affairs Center at the University of Illinois Springfield campus. The public is invited to this free event, but seating is limited. For more information, call the Illinois Innocence Project at 206-6569.

In 1998 Anthony Murray was convicted of first-degree murder in Marion County and sentenced to 45 years in prison.  In 2011-12, Illinois Innocence Project attorney John Hanlon, working with students from UIS and U of I and SIU law schools, reviewed Murray’s case and discovered that Murray’s attorney knowingly called a witness who would incriminate his client.  In June 2012 a judge ruled that Murray had received ineffective assistance of counsel and vacated his conviction.

Under the threat that the states attorney would bring him to trial again, in order to gain his freedom Murray was forced to accept a plea to second-degree murder and was released on time served.  By pleading to a lesser crime while still maintaining that he was innocent of all charges,  the “Alford Plea” allowed him to return home to his mother and family, but certainly left a stain on him and on what the Illinois Innocence Project believes should have been a complete exoneration.

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