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A Prisoner No More Thanks in Part to Medill Justice Project

Daycare provider released after Northwestern undergrads investigate her case

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May 1, 2014 | by Wendy Leopold

EVANSTON, Ill. --- After nearly a decade in prison, Jennifer Del Prete -- accused and convicted of shaking an infant in her care to death -- walked out of Illinois’ Logan Correctional Center yesterday (April 30). The ruling by a U.S. District Court Judge was prompted, in part, by a letter discovered by Northwestern University undergraduates working with the Medill Justice Project.  

“Our students have the capacity to do life-changing journalism,” said Alec Klein, director of the Medill Justice Project (MJP) and professor at the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications. Del Prete was not due to be released on parole until 2025. 

In the 2003 letter discovered by Klein’s students, a police detective wrote that the pathologist performing the infant’s autopsy had serious doubts that Del Prete had violently shaken the infant in what is known as shaken-baby syndrome. The letter was never provided to Del Prete or her attorneys at the time of the trial.

Del Prete has consistently maintained her innocence. Yesterday, she was greeted by relatives outside the correctional center and headed directly to a Cracker Barrel restaurant, where she dined on her first steak since 2005. It could take years for the courts to address her claims of innocence.

Northwestern’s Medill Justice Project -- which recently received an award from Investigative Reporters and Editors for its shaken baby syndrome work -- began investigating potential miscarriage of justice cases involving the syndrome since 2012. It has created a national database of such cases and a documentary on the issue.

For more information, photos and a video about Del Prete’s release, visit the Medill Justice Project website.

Topics: University News