Center on Wrongful Convictions


Sanfords and student   

JUSTICE IS LONG OVERDUE FOR DAVONTAE SANFORD

On April 15, 2015, attorneys from our Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth, Megan Crane, Steve Drizin, and Laura Nirider, along with student attorney Lauren Howard, filed a motion for relief from judgment in Michigan state court on behalf of Davontae Sanford. At an April 15th press conference, Megan Crane spoke out about the injustices Davontae has endured.

In 2007, 15 year old developmentally disabled Davonte was convicted of a quadruple murder in Detroit and sentenced to 37 to 90 years in prison. The true perpetrator: an admitted professional hit man named Vincent Smothers has confessed over the past seven years to Detroit police, state prosecutors, and a state   psychologist but his efforts to help Davontae have been repeatedly blocked by corruption and incompetence. Until now, the court has never heard from Smothers. His detailed affidavit was included in the CWCY filing. According to Smothers, he hopes “to have the opportunity to testify in court to provide details and drawings of the crime scene that could only be known by the person who committed the crime: me.” More...


OUR TWO PEORIA CASES IN THE NEWS


Christopher Coleman awarded a certificate of innocence

Christopher Coleman

On March 5, 2015, our longtime client Christopher Coleman was officially declared innocent by the Circuit Court of Peoria County.  We are grateful to Ron Safer and Tal Chaiken of Schiff Hardin LLP, our pro bono co-counsel, who led the legal team at the contested proceeding.

Christopher Coleman spent 19 years in prison for home invasion and related crimes that he did not commit; his convictions were reversed by the Illinois Supreme Court in October 2012.

For more information:


Johnnie Lee Savory presents his case for innocence

Johnnie Lee Savory

In 1977, at the age of 14, Johnnie Lee Savory was arrested for a double murder in Peoria. He would spend the next 30 years in prison until he was paroled in 2007 with assistance from the Center on Wrongful Convictions.

After a 25-year fight to conduct post-conviction DNA testing, Savory was finally granted permission in 2013.  He has now filed a petition asking for a new trial based on the results of that testing. The hearing on this motion began on April 2, 2015.

For more information:

  • Peoria Journal Star story
  • CWC attorney Josh Tepfer’s blog post about the hearing

PARDONS AND COMMUTATIONS

In his final days in office, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn issued pardons and commutations to the following four Center on Wrongful Convictions clients:

  • Anthony Dansberry, a developmentally disabled man who had been in prison since 1992, received a sentence commutation on January 12, 2015.

  • Johnnie Lee Savory, who served 30 years in prison for a double murder after his conviction as a teenager, received a pardon and expungement on January 12, 2015.

  • Alan Beaman, who served 13 years for a murder he did not commit that occurred while he was a college student, received a pardon based on innocence on January 9, 2015.

  • Robert Taylor, previously exonerated of a rape and murder for which he was convicted as a teenager, was pardoned for jumping bail in relation to that case on November 26, 2014.

Unfortunately, Randy Steidl and Anthony McKinney are still waiting for justice.

Media coverage: Dansberry and SavoryBeamanTaylor; Steidl


In Memoriam: Our Beloved Jane Raley

Jane Raley

It is with the greatest sadness that we announce the passing of Co-Director Jane Raley, a member of our legal staff since 2000 and truly the heart of the Center on Wrongful Convictions.  She died peacefully at home on Christmas morning, surrounded by her loving family.

The cause of criminal justice has lost one of our greatest and most compassionate warriors.  Jane was an incredible lawyer, a tenacious advocate for her clients, a revered mentor of law students and young lawyers, and an exceptionally loving and caring person.  All who knew her will miss her beyond measure.  Many innocent men and women are free from their convictions due to Jane’s work, and many young lawyers are out doing good in the world—and understand the good that attorneys can accomplish—due to Jane’s magnificent example during her 14 years as a law professor at Northwestern University School of Law.

A sampling of online tributes to Jane:

There will be a memorial service for Jane at 2 p.m. on January 3 at the North Shore Unitarian Church, 2100 Half Day Road, in Deerfield, Illinois.  All are welcome.

Rest in peace, our dear Jane.

(In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made in her memory to the Jane Raley Memorial Fund at Northwestern University School of Law. Please contact emily.mullin@law.northwestern.edu for more information.)