The Illinois Innocence Project (IIP), based at the University of Illinois Springfield, will hold the 10th annual Defenders of the Innocent event. Since its founding in 2001, the Project has helped to free 10 wrongly convicted individuals. The gala takes place on Saturday, April 29, 2017, from 5pm to 10pm at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, 3000 S. Dirksen Pkwy, Springfield.
Three featured speakers include exoneree Yusef Salaam, one of the “Central Park Five”; Yusef’s mother, Sharonne Salaam, the strongest family advocate for her son’s innocence; and Charles Palmer, a recent IIP exoneree who was released after 18 years in prison for a murder that DNA evidence proved he did not commit.
Yusef Salaam was one of five black and Latino teens from Harlem wrongly accused and convicted of a brutal rape and assault that left a white woman for dead in New York City’s Central Park. The woman was dubbed the “Central Park jogger” and the accused teens became known collectively as the “Central Park Five.” Yusef was just 15 when his life was upended and changed forever. Sharonne Salaam, who fought tirelessly to prove the innocence of her son and the other boys until they were fully exonerated by DNA 13 years later, bears witness to the impact that wrongful convictions have on families, especially when juveniles are involved. Her engagement around justice for the wrongly convicted continues today.
The Charles Palmer case involved the 1998 murder of a Decatur, Illinois man. The victim had an unknown person’s tissue under his fingernails and another person’s hair in his hand, both of which went untested prior to trial. IIP successfully litigated DNA testing of these items and on November 23, 2016, the prosecution dismissed and vacated all charges against Charles and released him after 18 years of wrongful imprisonment.
The Project will present “Defender of the Innocent” awards at this year’s event to: Mike Schlosser, director of the University of Illinois Police Training Institute; Kevin P. Caraher, an attorney at Cozen O'Connor; and Sheila Stocks-Smith, president of the Urban Action Network. At the invitation of Schlosser and the Police Training Institute, IIP has presented “wrongful conviction avoidance” programs to officer recruits. Caraher serves as a pro bono attorney on a current IIP case. Stocks-Smith played a pivotal role in IIP’s development and has dedicated her career to working with others to impact positive social change.
Registration for the Defenders of the Innocent event is required by April 25. Sponsorships are available. For more information or to register, visit www.uis.edu/innocenceproject/ or call (217) 414-9301.
Please note the Illinois Innocence Project (IIP) at the University of Illinois Springfield, in partnership with WSEC/PBS Springfield and the Hoogland Center for the Arts, will host a special viewing of the award-winning Ken Burns documentary “The Central Park Five” from 5pm to 8pm. Wednesday, April 12, at the Hoogland Center for the Arts ahead of the Defenders of the Innocent event. Seating is limited for this free documentary showing. Reservations are recommended by contacting email@example.com or calling 217/494-0823.