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Anniversary Celebration of Center on Wrongful Convictions

The fundraising celebration will support the centers' efforts.

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November 11, 2008 | by Pat Vaughan Tremmel

Rob Warden comments on tenth anniversary of Center on Wrongful Convictions

CHICAGO --- A performance of the off-Broadway hit "The Exonerated," featuring three of the death row exonerees playing themselves, will be part of the 10-year anniversary celebration of the Bluhm Legal Clinic's Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law.

The fundraising celebration Friday and Saturday, Nov. 14 and 15, will support the Center on Wrongful Convictions' well-recognized efforts to expose unjust convictions, to change attitudes and policies related to the death penalty and to institute major criminal justice reforms.

Lawrence C. Marshall, a co-founder of the Center on Wrongful Convictions, will deliver the keynote address, and the celebration will feature a screening, with a panel discussion, of "The Innocent," a chronicle of the death row experience in Illinois.

The panel discussion will feature Marshall; exoneree Sonia Jacobs, who was released from prison after an investigation by a documentary filmmaker; exoneree Gary Gauger, an Illinois organic farmer who was sentenced to death for a crime now known to have been committed by motorcycle gang members; and Jeanne Bishop, a founder of Families for Human Rights, a national organization dedicated to forgiveness and nonviolence as the best way to heal after suffering a tragic loss.

(See full schedule below, and for more information, go to www.law.northwestern.edu/cwc/.)

Friday, Nov. 14
(Northwestern University School of Law is at 375 E. Chicago Ave.)

•The Center on Wrongful Convictions' anniversary celebration will kick off at 5:30 p.m. during a reception in the Bluhm Legal Clinic at the School of Law. Attorneys Ronald Safer and Judy Royal will receive this year's inaugural award for their work in exonerating center client Julie Rea Harper. George N. Leighton will receive the annual Jenner & Block Award for his lifetime contributions to improving criminal justice.

•Marshall's keynote address precedes the performance of "The Exonerated"at 7 p.m. in Thorne Auditorium at the School of Law. A nationally renowned advocate for reform of the criminal justice system, Marshall is now at Stanford Law School, where he is professor of law, David and Stephanie Mills Director of Clinical Education and associate dean for public interest and clinical education.

•"The Exonerated," the off-Broadway hit by Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen, will follow Marshall's keynote address in Thorne Auditorium. The play is based on interviews of people who had been sentenced to death and, against all odds, escaped the fates juries and judges prescribed for them. Three of the death row exonerees whose stories are featured in the work -- Gary Gauger, Sonia Jacobs and Delbert Tibbs -- will play themselves.

(Former Gov. George Ryan saw "The Exonerated" during an effort by the Center on Wrongful Convictions to raise awareness about the fallibility of capital punishment. Ryan, who was then contemplating the fate of some 170 Illinois death row inmates, put blanket clemency "back on the table.")

Saturday, Nov. 15

•The screening of "The Innocent," made by Chicago filmmaker Lauri Feldman Fisher, with assistance from the late Dr. Jane Beber Abramson, a founding member of the Center on Wrongful Convictions advisory board, and a panel discussion, will take place at 1:30 p.m. at Temple Sholom of Chicago, 3840 N. Lake Shore Drive.

"The Innocent" chronicles the Illinois death row experience from the historic 1998 National Conference on Wrongful Convictions and the Death Penalty that was hosted by Northwestern's Bluhm Legal Clinic to former Gov. George Ryan's blanket clemency order in January 2003. (With two days left as governor, Ryan declared that most of the state's 156 death row inmates would serve terms of life in prison without parole.)

The Center on Wrongful Convictions was a driving force behind both the moratorium on executions declared by Ryan in January 2000 and his decision to commute all Illinois death sentences in January 2003.

Ten years ago (Nov. 13 to 15, 1998), Northwestern's National Conference on Wrongful Convictions and the Death Penalty brought worldwide attention to the tragic consequences of wrongful convictions. The conference featured 28 former prisoners from around the country who had been wrongfully sentenced to death, and their stories received extraordinary media attention.

Following the conference and other Northwestern efforts on behalf of the wrongfully convicted, the Center on Wrongful Convictions was launched in the beginning of the 1999-2000 academic year. The center has been instrumental in the exonerations of 19 innocent men and women in Illinois. Before the founding of the center, members of the center's staff were instrumental in 14 additional exonerations. Of the 33 exonerees, 13 had been sentenced to death.

Steven Drizin, the center's legal director, is a leading authority on coerced confessions, and his policy work focuses on efforts around the country to require law enforcement agencies to electronically record custodial interrogations. Rob Warden, the executive director and co-founder of the Center on Wrongful Convictions, is an award-winning legal affairs journalist, who, as editor and publisher of Chicago Lawyer magazine during the 1980s, exposed more than a score of wrongful convictions in Illinois.

Watch a Video Feature on the Center on Wrongful Convictions from News@Northwestern