After spending about half his life in prison, Angel Gonzalez was cleared from a rape and abduction conviction when DNA testing eliminated him as one of the two men who committed the crime.
On Friday, Gonzalez stood proudly alongside the lawyers and staff who aided him in his exoneration as the Illinois Innocence Project announced the Latino Innocence Initiative, which aims to prevent wrongful convictions and help people like Gonzalez who are vulnerable because of language barriers, lack of familiarity with the U.S. criminal justice system and threats over immigration status.
The initiative will include Spanish-language outreach to Illinois inmates who need legal assistance based on assertions of innocence, DNA testing and other investigation, regional or national conferences to explore similar issues and an action or reform agenda for Illinois policymakers.
"We're very proud of this, there's a big need to do this in Illinois," said John Hanlon, executive and legal director, who cited Gonzalez, who was released from prison in March and was granted a certificate of innocence in June, as the inspiration behind the initiative.
The Latino Innocence Initiative is part of the University of Illinois at Springfield's Innocence Project. The group has already created Spanish application forms for its services and is in the process of creating an advisory board.
The story was reported by the Chicago Tribune on November 13, 2015.
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