From Dana Vollmer of Northern Public Radio, Springfield private detective Bill Clutter is asking Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul to create a statewide unit to review possible cases of wrongfully convicted prisoners. Clutter is most known for being a co-founder of the Illinois innocence project, which has helped free a dozen wrongfully convicted persons in the state since the organizations founding in 2001. Clutter cited the Cook County Conviction Integrity unit as a precedent for the unit he’s looking to see created. That unit has helped free 54 wrongfully convicted persons in Cook County. However as Clutter notes, Cook County is one of the biggest counties in the country, and most other counties don’t have the financial ability to create a truly independent review unit. Local law enforcement is also unlikely to do much about wrongfully convicted prisoners due to a the intricate web of connections in these smaller communities. “Local legal communities are tight knit,” Clutter said. “Prosecutors that have the role of state’s attorneys tend to protect their predecessors and even judges to some extent. It’s just human nature.” And since nonprofits such as the Innocence Project have a hard time doing much without cooperation from local law enforcement, Clutter would like to see Raoul step in and assemble a team of independent lawyers and detectives to review cases that might have resulted in wrongful convictions.
According to Vollmer, The first case that Clutter is asking Raoul to review, is that of Thomas McMillan. McMillan was a Springfield man who was convicted for the 1989 murder of Melissa Koontz on the basis of testimony from jailhouse informants. Jailhouse informant testimony is notoriously unreliable for many reasons, one being that the informant is highly incentivized to give anything valuable to law enforcement even if it’s fake as they can strike a better deal for themselves. Just last November, Illinois lawmakers overrode former Governor Bruce Rauner’s veto on Bill 1830, which reformed the way jailhouse informants can be used by prosecutors. This bill gave Illinois arguably the strongest jailhouse informant transparency laws in the nation. Under the new bill, Prosecutors now have to disclose that they are using jailhouse informants at least 30 days before the trial, and they have to reveal to the defense what benefits they are planning on giving to the informant in exchange for their testimony. After that, Prosecutors will then have to prove to a Judge that an informants testimony is reliable and admissible. Clutter believes that with these new laws, McMillan’s case should be reviewed as so much of the conviction hinged on jailhouse informant testimony. According to the Innocence Project, Jailhouse informants are the number one cause of wrongful convictions nationally and have played a role in 16% of DNA based exonerations. In Illinois alone, 17 people have been wrongfully convicted due to Jailhouse informants, serving a combined 227 years.
by Jake Morask