Investigating Innocence is a nonprofit wrongful conviction advocacy organization that provides criminal defense investigations for inmates in the United States. Investigating Innocence was founded in 2013 by private investigator Bill Clutter to assist nationwide Innocence Project groups in investigating innocence claims. "Once we have a case that meets our criteria, we'll put private investigators to work on it. A lot of these cases need investigators," said Kelly Thompson, executive director of Investigating Innocence. Prior to his work on Investigating Innocence, Clutter was one of the founders of the Illinois Innocence Project. Investigating Innocence also has a board composed of exonerees that reviews incoming cases.
Clutter is also advocating for the creation of a statewide conviction integrity unit for the state of Illinois, where Investigating Innocence is based. Conviction integrity units, which investigate innocence claims, have popped up in recent years in major metropolitan areas such as Dallas, New York, and Chicago. As government organizations, these groups have a greater ability to access evidence and assist defendants than independent innocence organizations. Illinois has a conviction integrity unit, which has seen over 70 convictions overturned since 2017, but it serves only the Chicago area and smaller counties lack funding for such units. "It would be a financial burden for this office to have a truly independent staff of at least one investigator and one attorney to review the claims, and there are not enough claims like this in a county like Sangamon to warrant those resources," Clutter said. "But on a state level, it makes sense to have it housed in the attorney general's office."
One of the organization's most prominent cases was the exoneration of David Camm, a former Indiana state trooper who was wrongfully convicted of the murders of his wife and two children. Approximately five years after he was arrested, DNA evidence identified a convicted felon named Charles Boney as having been at the crime scene. Boney is currently serving 225 years for the murders.
In 2017, Investigating Innocence was also instrumental in the defense of Curtis Lovelace, a former prosecutor who was charged with murder in Quincy, Illinois, in the death of his first wife Cory Lovelace. The organization referred the case to the Exoneration Project, based at the University of Chicago, which agreed to represent Lovelace pro bono. Lovelace was indicted eight years after his wife died of liver failure, a condition known as fatty liver. Investigating Innocence helped develop key evidence that contributed to his exoneration. In 1990, Lovelace was team captain of the Fighting Illini football team that won the Citrus Bowl. On a change of venue, a Springfield, Illinois jury took less than two hours to acquit Lovelace on March 10, 2017.
Investigating Innocence conducted the investigation that linked serial killer Tommy Lynn Sells to the April 27, 1982 murder of JoAnne Tate in St. Louis for which Rodney Lincoln was wrongfully convicted. The investigation of Bill Clutter was featured on Crime Watch Daily, which triggered the recantation of Melissa DeBoer who was seven-years-old and left for dead when she witnessed the murder of her mother. Melissa’s mistaken identification of Rodney Lincoln led to his conviction in 1983. This new evidence persuaded Missouri Governor Eric Greitens to commute Rodney Lincoln’s sentence. On June 3, 2018, Lincoln was freed from prison.
Bill Clutter, who founded Investigating Innocence, conducted the post-conviction investigation that helped free Randy Steidl from death row. Clutter’s pre-trial investigation also helped free Rolando Cruz and Alejandro Hernandez from death row in Illinois. Clutter was among a handful of private investigators and lawyers who were credited by Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn for helping to abolish the death penalty in Illinois.
As of 2019, the group is advocating for Tom McMillen, who was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the 1989 murder of Melissa Koontz. Clutter says that two key witnesses were never called to testify in the case. Their testimony would have contradicted key testimony against McMillen.
Prominent Investigating Innocence members are exoneree Randy Steidl, exoneree Ray Krone, private investigator Paul J. Ciolino, Cyndy Short, a Kansas City attorney who recently freed Reggie Griffin, and attorney Jose Baez.
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