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Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2006 10:04 pm

Continuing crisis

Innocence Project co-founder to speak at UIS event

Since civil-rights attorneys Peter Neufeld and Barry Scheck founded the Innocence Project in 1992, the organization, which now consists of a nationwide network of 30-plus organizations, has helped exonerate 14 death-row inmates and 183 others.

Why? As Neufeld and Scheck point out in Actual Innocence, which they co-wrote with journalist Jim Dwyer, eyewitnesses make mistakes, snitches and prosecutors lie, defense attorneys are incompetent, confessions are coerced or fabricated, lab tests are rigged, and racism trumps truth.

Neufeld will visit Springfield next week to take part in several events, including fundraisers for the Downstate Illinois Innocence Project and an evening lecture.

Working with University of Illinois at Springfield student researchers and investigators, the Downstate Innocence Project and its attorneys have succeeded in having the convictions of Keith Harris and Julie Rea-Harper overturned.

According to members of the project, which is located at the UIS Institute for Legal and Policy Studies, Harris had been convicted of attempted murder without any physical evidence and despite the confessions of two other individuals.

Rea-Harper, convicted of the 1997 murder of her only son, was acquitted in a retrial this summer [see Dusty Rhodes, “The end,” Aug. 10].

Project co-directors Bill Clutter, Nancy Ford, and Larry Golden believe that Illinois officials, including judges and members of the Legislature, must be educated on the need to reform the criminal-justice system — and their work is the best way to demonstrate such a need.

At 7 pm. Tuesday, Nov. 28, Neufeld will present “The Crisis of Wrongful Conviction” in Brookens Auditorium, on the lower level of Brookens Library, on the UIS campus. The event is free and open to the public.

Contact R.L. Nave rnave@illinoistimes.com.

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