Thursday, 29 May 2008

Dean Cage exonerated in Chicago

After nearly 12 years in Illinois prison for a rape he didn’t commit, Innocence Project client Dean Cage is finally free today. His mother and other family members picked him up when he was released late last night from a prison three hours outside of Chicago. Back at his mother’s Chicago home early this morning, his family threw a party to welcome Cage home.

Cage said at a Chicago press conference this afternoon that he is overjoyed to be rejoining his family and that he is committed to working for fair justice in his home state and across the country. He is the 217th person exonerated by DNA testing in the United States, and the 29th in Illinois. Only Texas — with 31 — has more DNA exonerations than Illinois.

Read news coverage of Cage’s release — and learn more about his case and others across the country — on our website.

Cage was wrongfully convicted of raping a 15-year-old girl on her way to school during the winter of 1994. The victim’s identification of Cage as the attacker was the centerpiece of the state’s evidence against him at trial. After the assault, the victim helped police prepare a composite sketch of the perpetrator. A week later, police received a tip that a man matching the sketch worked at a local meat market. Police took the victim to the market, where she identified Cage. Later, at the police station, the victim identified Cage again, this time based on the sound of his voice.

At today’s press conference, Innocence Project Co-Director Peter Neufeld said Illinois has been a national leader for several years in reforming the criminal justice system for capital cases. But the state has fallen short in implementing reforms that can prevent wrongful convictions in non-capital cases, which are the vast majority of convictions — and wrongful convictions — in the state. Last summer, the Illinois Legislature created a commission to study non-capital wrongful convictions and develop reforms that can make the criminal justice system more fair and accurate. Nearly a year later, that commission has not been funded and no members have been appointed to it.

Neufeld and Cage today called on the Illinois Legislature to move quickly to get the commission started on its critical mission, noting that a similar commission in Illinois led to substantial reforms in capital cases. "If this commission were operating as it’s supposed to, it could help prevent a substantial number of wrongful convictions and restore confidence in the state’s criminal justice system," Neufeld said. "Perhaps most chilling is the reality that people across Illinois are still being wrongfully convicted based on eyewitness misidentification that could be prevented if the state enacted simple, straightforward reforms that are proven to work."

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