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Friday, April 5, 2013

You Look Just Like "Boo": Anthony Murray's Speech to Students at Southern Illinois University

One of the best parts of my job is serving as a faculty advisor to Southern Illinois University School of Law students who work with the Illinois Innocence Project (IIP).  The IIP is a unique organization that involves all three public law schools in Illinois, as well as undergraduate and graduate students at the University of Illinois at Springfield.

Last fall, the IIP was able to help secure the release of Anthony Murray, a man who was wrongfully convicted of first-degree murder in 1998 and served 14 years, 11 months and 3 days of a 45-year sentence (link to stories about his case and release here). Murray did not receive a full exoneration. Rather, after his conviction was dismissed, the state's attorney for Marion County, Illinois, brought charges again but offered Murray the opportunity to plead no contest to 2d degree murder in return for a sentence of time served. Murray chose the certainty of going home to facing trial a third time in a system he no longer fully trusted. (If you read some of the articles in the above link, you'll note that no one in the IIP was satisfied with the offer from the state's attorney, but Murray did not want to risk a third trial in the same county, with the same perjurious witnesses, for the offense.)

Murray spoke to the students at SIU this afternoon. As with all exoneree presentations I've observed, his speech was inspirational, heartfelt, and heart-wrenching.
He knew he was doomed at trial when he saw the ineptitude of his defense attorney, who, by the way, was later disbarred for misconduct. He admonished the students to take their legal education seriously, reminding them that they would be the future state's attorneys, private lawyers and public defenders responsible for administering the criminal justice system. He encouraged them to become involved in organizations such as the IIP in order to help free wrongfully convicted

He told them about the thirteen family members who died while he was incarcerated, and how much it hurt not to be able to say goodbye to them or attend their funerals. He talked about missing out on the adolescence and early adult years of his own children.

And he told a great story about his grandmother, whose nickname for him was "Boo." For years, he promised her that someday he would get out of prison and "pop up" in her home, surprising her. As his release date approached, he ensured that his mother kept the details of it secret from his grandmother so he could surprise her. The ruse worked so well that the week before his release, his grandmother told his mother that she did not think she'd have the chance to ever see him again.

The evening he was released, he drove to Chicago with his mother. They arrived late in the evening. His mother called his grandmother and told her that she wanted to stop by the house because there was someone she needed to meet. The grandmother protested that it was late and her hair was a mess, but his mother insisted. They walked into the house, and the first thing his grandmother said when she saw him was, "You look a lot like Boo." Then she did a double take, realized it was in fact her Boo, and nearly had a heart attack on the spot.

As a trial advocacy and evidence teacher, I found his remarks priceless. Trials matter. Professionalism and ethics are important. Trial skills, or the lack thereof, can make a real difference in a person's life. Involvement in the innocence movement is one of the best ways to underscore this lesson for students. It can take years or even decades to obtain relief from bad work at the trial level . . . and unfortunately, sometimes that relief never comes. The IIP is still waiting for a posthumous pardon for Grover Thompson, who died in the psychiatric ward of a maximum security prison 16 years into a 40-year sentence for a crime he didn't commit (see news stories and earlier blog post on Grover Thompson case).

As Murray told the students, "You need to be the attorney who understands all the evidence and knows what to do with it. You don't want to be that attorney who loses all his cases because he doesn't know what's going in. This isn't a game. It's life. It's real."

I don't know anyone who's ever said it better.

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