Panel to Address Issues of Wrongful Convictions

BLOOMINGTON, Ill. — Each year, people are sent to prison for crimes they did not commit, including the 139 people who were wrongfully convicted in 2017, as reported by the Innocence Project. On Tuesday, Oct. 16 at 7 p.m. a panel will address these issues of wrongful convictions in the Hansen Student Center.

The event, titled “Wrongful Convictions? The Pursuit of Justice in Illinois,” was organized by Associate Professor of Psychology Amanda Vicary in an effort to make people aware of potential flaws in the justice system. The panel is free to attend and open to the public.

Vicary, who has taught a course on the criminal justice system for the past eight years, focuses on topics that can lead to someone being wrongfully convicted. Vicary has offered her expertise in various national publications including: The Atlantic, Investigation Discovery’s Married with Secrets, and the crime podcast Suspect Convictions.

“No one ever thinks they'd go to prison for a crime they didn't commit, but thanks to DNA, we know that it happens,” Vicary said. “Unfortunately, DNA can't solve every case and mistakes can be made. It's important for our community to pay attention to potential problems with our justice system because one never knows whether they or a loved one could be affected one day.”

Tuesday’s panelists include: Curtis Lovelace, a current criminal defense attorney in Champaign who was tried for the murder of his wife and now works to help those wrongfully accused; Tammy Alexander, co-founder of the non-profit organization Justice for Illinois' Wrongfully Convicted; and Tara Thompson, a partner at Loevy & Loevy law firm and an attorney with the University of Chicago's Exoneration Project.

The panelists will discuss two local cases that are being represented by the Exoneration Project, which is dedicated to restoring justice by petitioning courts to reverse wrongful convictions. The cases include that of Barton McNeil who was convicted of killing his daughter in 1999, but claimed that his ex-girlfriend – who murdered her mother-in-law 12 years following McNeil’s trial – committed the crime instead. The other case involves Jamie Snow, a man convicted of murdering a gas station attendant in Bloomington in the '90s.

“I thought it would be great for the campus community, and Bloomington-Normal more broadly, to hear about some of our local cases that are being examined, as well as learn more about the processes that can lead to an innocent person being sent to prison,” Vicary said.

Vicary said participants will have the opportunity to engage with the panel, and encourages them to come prepared with questions for the panelists about the cases mentioned or wrongful convictions in general.

The panel is a co-curricular event complementing the University’s annual intellectual theme, “Changing Climates.”

By Vi Kakares ‘20