During the second week of September, Northwestern Pritzker School of Law faculty and the Office of Inclusion & Engagement hosted its first-ever Northwestern Law Racial Justice Virtual Teach-In.
Professors Maria Hawilo and Thomas Geraghty of Northwestern Pritzker Law’s Bluhm Legal Clinic, former clinical fellow Gregor Calhan, and students Megan Richard, Brooke Troutman, Irene Wilburn, Sarah Lewis, Jessica Dent, Christina Messerschmidt, and Tonie Oglesby successfully persuaded an Illinois appellate court to reverse their 14-year-old client’s attempted murder conviction on “sufficiency of the evidence” grounds.
After a trial in juvenile court, Christian W. was convicted of attempted murder based on the testimony of a single eyewitness. Through careful cross-examination at trial, the trial team exposed inconsistencies in the witness’s various accounts to the police, inconsistencies which appeared to be due in part to police fact-feeding and suggestion. Despite these inconsistencies, the trial court found the witness’s testimony to be credible and also rejected the alibi evidence of the defense.
On appeal, Hawilo painstakingly detailed during oral argument why the trial court’s analysis of the witness’s testimony was flawed and why his ever-changing accounts could not constitute sufficient evidence of Christian’s guilt. In a detailed opinion joined by all three justices of the court, the appellate court found that “significant discrepancies and inconsistencies in [witness] testimony have so compromised his credibility that, absent any corroborating evidence whatsoever, a reasonable doubt of Christian’s guilt remains.”
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