Illinois Innocence Project frees another innocent man: Anthony Murray shares his story with UIS community
“We find the defendant, guilty.” This is the verdict far too many innocent men and women face each year within the U.S. court system, according to the Illinois Innocence Project, housed at UIS.
This verdict is far too true for Anthony Murray; a man convicted of first-degree murder in 1998 in Marion County and was sentenced to 45 years in prison. Murray spent more than 14 years behind bars for a crime he did not commit, but received a chance at redemption with the help of the Innocence Project.
Murray’s case is the fifth case taken on by the UIS Innocence Project that led to the freedom of a prisoner of whom they believed to be innocent. However, unlike other cases, which relied on new pieces of hard evidence, Murray’s case did not.
“It’s been a journey,” said Murray, a Chicago native who spoke at UIS on March 25 about the choices and sacrifices he made leading up to his prison release on Oct. 31, 2012. He stood in front of several of the individuals from the UIS Innocence Project, a group he considers family, praising them for their faith and hard work leading up to his exoneration.
Murray explained that his innocence pushed him to fight for his freedom, even while in prison. “I had a choice, the yard, or the law library and I [decided] I’m going to the law library. [I said] this is more important to me, this is my life.”
He added that he solicited the help of many innocence organizations, and the UIS Innocence Project was willing to take on his case. After accepting his case, the Project team began on an in-depth journey to investigate Murray’s case, where they found new supporting evidence of his innocence.
A reluctant Murray accepted a plea bargain for second-degree murder, and was later released based on the time that he served in prison. The plea, known as an Alford Plea, allows individuals to gain freedom from prison by pleading guilty to a lesser charge, while maintaining innocence for the original conviction.
Murray explained that the reasoning behind the Alford Plea was not because he was guilty, but rather because of the toll his imprisonment was taking on his mother, and the lives of his friends and family members he was missing out on.
On October 31, 2012 Anthony Murray was released from Graham Correctional Facility where he was reunited with his mother and project team.
“There is nothing like the great day that we went out to meet Anthony at that prison and bringing him back to Springfield,” said Rebecca Luke, a UIS Innocent Project volunteer. “Seeing the smile on his face, and hugging his mom…that [was] truly a life changing moment and I don’t think that’s something that any of us will ever forget.”
Although not entirely exonerated, the Illinois Innocent Project says that they feel that in the future they will be able to clear Murray of all charges, leaving him completely exonerated.
“I’m not saying by a long shot that everyone in prison is innocent, but there are innocent people in prison…. If you’re guilty that’s one thing, but if you truly are innocent that’s a whole different story,” said Murray. “And I’ve been on that side where I was innocent, and the State’s Attorney knew I was innocent and I still wound up doing almost 14 and a half years of my life in prison, for something that not only I knew I didn’t do, but they knew I didn’t do.”
He added, “It’s sad that we’re still in that era, after so many years, we’re still in the era that people look at people differently because they’re a minority – and just say they’re guilty.”
Murray emphasized the importance of evaluating every situation honestly – not looking for a win or lose, but the truth.