The co-founder of an Illinois prisoner advocacy group is calling for a statewide effort to investigate claims of innocence.
The Illinois Innocence Project has freed a dozen wrongfully convicted prisoners since 2001. Now, Bill Clutter, a private investigator from Springfield, is calling on Attorney General Kwame Raoul to create a conviction integrity unit to review more cases.
Clutter points to Cook County’s conviction integrity unit, which dropped 54 felony convictions last year, as a model.
“Granted, these aren’t first degree murder charges,” he said. “A lot of these are drug cases that are tainted by a dirty detective. But that’s 54 people that have been cleared by a conviction integrity unit.”
But Clutter said most counties don’t have the resources to create their own unit — and local officials are often unable to independently review cases.
“Local legal communities are tight knit,” he said. “Prosecutors that have the role of state’s attorneys tend to protect their predecessors and even judges to some extent. It’s just human nature.”
Nonprofits are limited in their investigations without assistance from law enforcement, Clutter said, but an independent, state-run team of lawyers and detectives could help prevent innocent people from languishing in prison — often for longer than 20 years.
As a first step, Clutter is asking the attorney general to review the case of Thomas McMillen, who was convicted of the 1989 murder of Melissa Koontz in Springfield. His trial hinged on the testimony of jailhouse informants, which Clutter said could have been dismissed under an Illinois law passed last year.
No legislation has been filed to create a statewide conviction integrity unit. Clutter said he will continue to work with lawmakers and the attorney general.