Students, faculty, alumni, and supporters, gathered in Northwestern Law’s Lincoln Hall on Tuesday, January 31, to celebrate the recent successes of the Center on Wrongful Convictions (CWC), part of the Law School’s Bluhm Legal Clinic.
In the last three months, the CWC played a role in 11 exonerations: Jacques Rivera, Robert Taylor and the Dixmoor Five, Juan Rivera, and Terrill Swift and the Englewood Four — the single largest cluster of exonerations in any three-month period in the history of the innocence movement.
Four of the recent exonerees addressed the audience at the event: Jacques Rivera, Robert Taylor, Juan Rivera, and Terrill Swift. Attorneys who worked on their cases introduced the exonerees and shared their stories, describing their clients’ long and emotional journeys through the often-flawed criminal justice system. Most of the exonerees were wrongly convicted based on erroneous eyewitnesses or false confessions.
In a series of emotional addresses, each of the exonerees expressed their gratitude to their supportive families and to the students and CWC faculty, staff, attorneys, and volunteers who worked on their cases.
“I knew I was in great hands with Northwestern,” Terrill Swift said. “The students who worked on my case are great, great people.”
Juan Rivera also recognized the students who worked on his case, and thanked them for their “dedication to seeking truth and justice.”
Other speakers included Rob Warden, executive director of the CWC; Northwestern Law Dean Dan Rodriguez; Larry Marshall JD ’85, co-founder and former legal director of the CWC (now director of clinical education at Stanford); and Steven Drizin JD '86, legal director of the CWC.
At the close of the program, Rob Warden invited all of the exonerees in the room to the podium. More than 20 men stepped up to the microphone, and, one at a time, each stated his name and how many years he had served for a crime he did not commit.
Since its founding following the 1998 National Conference on Wrongful Convictions and the Death Penalty, the CWC has been instrumental in the exonerations of 34 innocent men and women in Illinois. Before the founding of the CWC, members of its staff were instrumental in 14 additional exonerations — including that of Gary Dotson, who in 1989 became the first person in the world to be exonerated by DNA.
The CWC was also a driving force behind both the moratorium on executions declared by former Governor George Ryan in January 2000 and his decision to commute all Illinois death sentences in January 2003. In recognition of the CWC’s role, the Governor chose Lincoln Hall at Northwestern Law as the venue for his blanket clemency announcement.
Northwestern Law’s Bluhm Legal Clinic was also instrumental in helping to abolish the death penalty in Illinois. Governor Pat Quinn JD ’80 signed the abolition legislation in March 2011.