On February 11, Illinois Innocence Project client Christopher Abernathy walked out of Stateville Correctional Center in Joliet a free and fully exonerated man. Christopher was imprisoned for nearly 30 years after being wrongly convicted at age 18, based on a false confession after 40 hours of interrogation, for the brutal sexual assault and murder of 15-year-old Kristina Hickey in suburban Chicago in 1984.
Pictured at right is Mr. Abernathy, now age 48, the moment he stepped out of Stateville with IIP staff attorney, Lauren Kaeseberg, who, after first working on his case in 2009, remained haunted by it and asked IIP to take it on in 2013.
Last year the office of the Cook County State’s Attorney agreed to the Project’s request to conduct DNA testing on crime scene items. Testing on all items excluded Mr. Abernathy and proved his innocence. At a hearing on February 11 the state dismissed all charges. Christopher was released three hours later to his waiting mother, who had visited him 965 times over the years, and family.
YOU played a role, through your financial support of the Project, in freeing Christopher. Nearly every penny we receive goes directly to the work of our two full-time staff attorneys, both of whom are handling more than full caseloads and receiving requests for help daily from potentially innocent men and women in Illinois prisons.
Now is the time to donate to the Illinois Innocence Project Fund.
Or, please consider sponsoring this year’s only major fundraising event – Defenders of the Innocent – on April 8, featuring Jennifer Thompson and exoneree Ronald Cotton, both victims of a flawed witness identification process. Like Christopher, Ronald spent years in prison for a crime he did not commit. And Jennifer experienced the horror of a brutal sexual assault and then the horror of learning, through DNA testing, she had unintentionally identified the wrong person.
For more information, please visit www.uis.edu/innocenceproject or call (217) 206-6569.