A 62-year-old Decatur man who spent the last 18 years behind bars for murder will be having Thanksgiving with his family after the Illinois Innocence Project at the University of Illinois Springfield used newly tested DNA evidence to overturn his conviction.
Charles Palmer walked out of the Macon County Courthouse Wednesday after the state’s attorney’s office declined to retry the case.
Palmer’s conviction had been overturned earlier this month after DNA tests indicated that hair and fingernail scrapings found in the victim’s hands did not match Palmer.
John Hanlon, executive director of the Illinois Innocence Project, said his client is grateful to be free.
“It’s a nice Thanksgiving present for him, his wife and his family,” Hanlon said Wednesday. “He got to see his two grandchildren for the first time today. That was a thrill for him as well. It’s going to be a wonderful holiday for him.”
Hanlon said Palmer was declining media interviews.
Palmer was convicted in April 2000 for the August 1998 murder of Decatur attorney William Helmbacher, 32.
People set free after being wrongfully convicted react differently, according to Hanlon. Some are bitter, while others are overjoyed, he said.
“Fortunately, he’s in the category of being very grateful,” Hanlon said.
The Illinois Innocence Project, through Hanlon, represented Palmer from 2011 through 2016. They filed and litigated motions that called for more in-depth DNA testing of the evidence.
Six UIS students, along with numerous Illinois Innocence Project staffers and volunteers, worked on the case over the years, along with another six law school students from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign College of Law.
Hanlon said Palmer’s release was a team effort, and he was also grateful to the Macon County state’s attorney’s office.
The DNA testing in Palmer’s case was made possible by federal grants awarded in 2010 and 2012 to UIS for use by the Illinois Innocence Project.
This story appeared in The State Journal-Register on November 23, 2016.
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