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Thursday, May 29, 2014 12:01 am

Local network investigates innocence nationwide

David Camm
PHOTO BY BILL CLUTTER
A Springfield-based network is helping connect wrongfully convicted people across the country to professionals who can help.

The Investigating Innocence organization was formed in January 2013 by local private investigator Bill Clutter and University of Illinois Springfield students. The group connects criminal defense attorneys and private investigators to inmates who are trying to prove their innocence. Since the group formed, the network of legal experts has taken on a range of cases, from inmates convicted of murdering family members to shaken baby syndrome cases.

The project differs from another advocacy group, the Illinois Innocence Project, because it serves as a national network of investigators and attorneys, who volunteer time to take on different cases throughout the country. The group’s governing board consists entirely of exonerees – individuals who have been found not guilty of previous convictions – who decide which cases the group will investigate.

Kelly Thompson, Investigating Innocence executive director who works out of Springfield, said connecting private investigators is key to potential exonerees, as many cases aren’t properly investigated before they’re tried.

“Most of these cases, they’re not being investigated all of the way,” Thompson said.

One of Investigating Innocence’s most recent successes was its involvement with the case of former Indiana State Trooper David Camm. After Camm twice appealed his 2002 conviction of murdering his family, prospects of being found not guilty looked bleak. But following his third trial, he was found not guilty.

Camm’s case has received national attention since he was found not guilty on Oct. 24 last year. He was convicted in 2002 for the 2000 murder of his 35-year-old wife, 7-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter in Georgetown, Indiana. Camm had said he was playing basketball at the time of the murder, but eight droplets of his wife’s blood found on Camm’s shirt were used to help convict Camm.

Bridget Norris, a Springfield-based investigator with Investigating Innocence, said she spent months reviewing the evidence, watching interrogations and concentrating on the forensic sciences of the case last year.

“It’s just so obvious that it was wrong,” she said.

One of the main pieces of evidence used to convict Camm was the blood splatter on his clothing. The prosecutors argued the blood on his clothing was high velocity impact splatter from a gunshot. Norris said that does not pair up with basic forensic science. While eight spots were found on his clothing, which Camm argued came from trying to resuscitate his son, Norris said if Camm had fired the gun, he would have been covered in blood.

Norris said Camm’s case was one where police suspected him immediately.

“From the second they went on the scene, they’d already had the idea in their heads that he had done it,” she said. “It was the whole tunnel-vision thing. Instead of letting the evidence tell the story, they’d made the evidence try to match their theory.”

Because Camm was a police officer, some of those who interrogated him following his arrest were his former colleagues.

“The interrogation tapes were just so hard to watch,” Thompson said. “He was saying ‘you guys know me’.”

Also connected to the case from the beginning was Charles Boney, whose sweatshirt was found at the scene. Boney was arrested and alleged that he had sold Camm the gun. Camm denied Boney’s story. Boney was later convicted for the murders and sentenced to 225 years in prison.

Camm served 13 years in prison before his conviction was overturned. He will be visiting Springfield as a part of the Investigating Innocence “Freedom Festival,” a fundraiser set for 5 to 7 p.m. June 4 at DH Brown’s, where exoneree Randy Steidl, who spent 17 years in prison for the murder of Dyke and Karen Rhoads before he was freed in 2004, will give opening remarks.

Contact Lauren P. Duncan at intern@illinoistimes.com.

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