Thursday, May 26, 2011

Defenders of the innocent

It’s not every day that a serial killer helps a writer solve a crime, so when Diane Fanning, a Texas true-crime author, received a letter from convicted killer Tommy Lynn Sells admitting to a murder in Illinois, she knew she was on to something big.

Fanning convinced Sells to give more details about the1997 murder of 10-year-old Joel Kirkpatrick of Lawrenceville, Ill., and she included his confession in her 2007 book, Through the Window, which details Sells’ cross-country murder spree. The Downstate Illinois Innocence Project, based at the University of Illinois Springfield, later used the details gathered by Fanning to free Joel’s mother, Julie Rea Harper, who had been wrongly convicted of the murder in 2002.

On May 16, almost five years after her release from prison, Harper stood in front of a crowd of people and tightly hugged Fanning, who she calls her hero. Fanning was one of four people honored for contributing to the defense of the wrongly convicted at the Downstate Illinois Innocence Project’s 10th anniversary banquet. U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and former Illinois State Police investigators Alva Busch and Michale Callahan also received the Innocence Project’s Defenders of the Innocent award.

The awards were featured in an May 26, 2011, edition of the Illinois Times.

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