This year, the Center on Wrongful Convictions’ faculty and students celebrate the freedom and exoneration of CWC clients Juan Hernandez and Jose Cruz, who combined spent over 55 years wrongfully imprisoned after being framed by disgraced former Chicago Police Detective Reynaldo Guevara. Jose and Juan were clients of the late CWC co-directors Jane Raley and Karen Daniels. After joining the CWC, attorney and associate professor Greg Swygert took over their cases. Over 40 CWC students throughout the years worked on their cases.
After years of defending Jose’s wrongful conviction, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx and her office agreed to vacate Jose’s wrongful murder conviction in July of 2022. Three people saw the perpetrators of an early morning gas station shooting where one person died. Only one identified Jose as the perpetrator, the others told police the shooters were a different race. Among the misconduct, Guevara harangued and threatened the gas station attendant on numerous occasions to falsely identify Jose. Upon learning of Jose’s exoneration, former CWC student Riley Clafton wrote, “I’m so proud to have worked with the CWC and learned from working with you.”
In June 2022, Swygert, former CWC attorney Josh Tepfer and others conducted an evidentiary hearing in Juan and his brother Rosendo Hernandez’s cases. A month later, a Cook County Judge vacated the brothers’ convictions apologizing to Juan and Rosendo “for the misconduct that was done to you and how [they] suffered for the last 25 years.” He was released the next day.
The CWC also celebrate courts vacating the murder convictions of Kevin Dugar and Joseph Janke, and the release of clients, Brian Daniels, Brian Dement, Brian Willis, and Corzell Cole.
Together, these individuals wrongly served hundreds of years behind bars and were finally released thanks to the tireless work by many CWC attorneys, faculty, students, and staff, past and present.
This semester, CWC student teams have also had an incredible and unique opportunity to work with incarcerated survivors of gender-based violence in post-conviction and clemency matters. They’ve conducted interviews, prepared questions for consulting experts, and investigated claims of innocence in “no crime” cases, which disproportionately affect women. One CWC student recently captured the personal nature of the CWC’s work: “I joined this clinic because I really wanted to use the skills I have learned in law school so far to start helping people, even as a student lawyer…this is a real case for a real person who is waiting inside while we do our work, which gave me additional motivation to keep working hard on this case.”
In addition to their commitment to Northwestern Law students, CWC faculty are educating beyond the Northwestern community as they engage with prominent stakeholder organizations and respected media outlets to engage others in the Center’s work and drive real-world change. For example, in November, CWC faculty delivered the keynote address at the American Association of Forensic Psychology’s inaugural national convening to promote collaboration between the disciplines of law and psychology. In early November, CWC faculty also delivered a talk at the National Judicial Institute in Vancouver, training the Canadian judiciary about the problem of false confessions. CWC faculty have also recently consulted with organizations including the United States Department of Justice, the Minnesota Conviction Review Unit, and New Zealand’s Criminal Cases Review Commission on matters relating to false confessions and wrongful convictions. And CWC faculty regularly collaborates with other law school clinics around cases and projects, too, including legal clinics based at Rutgers Law, Michigan Law, and Cardozo Law.
CWC faculty also have guest-hosted three episodes of the Webby-Award-winning “Wrongful Conviction” podcast, which attracts approximately 100,000 listeners per episode. In 2020, the CWC partnered with “Wrongful Conviction” to produce the “Wrongful Conviction: False Confessions” series written and co-hosted by our co-directors. In its first season, “Wrongful Conviction: False Confessions” hit number one on the U.S. Apple charts, and it won a Webby Award in its second season.