Guilty or Innocent?
February 16, 2005 6:57 PM   Subscribe

Guilty or innocent? Thanks to the work of the Northwestern University Center on Wrongful Convictions, an organization with a long history of assisting in the exoneration of the innocent, the case of Alan Beaman, convicted of murdering his ex-girlfriend in 1993, may be reopened soon. [mi]
posted by eschatfische (9 comments total)
Now, I need to admit my bias. I went to high school with Alan, sat behind him in Geometry and English, talked with him on occasion, and always thought of him as upbeat, smart, kind and slackful. While Derf wrote of his creepy experiences in high school with Jeffrey Dahmer, my interactions with Alan were the exact opposite; Alan was the kind of guy who was into bands like They Might Be Giants, The Cure, had a focus on theater production; he seemed to have a pretty stable life. If I'm not mistaken, Alan was voted "Most School Spirit" in our graduating class.

Right now, Alan is serving a 50 year sentence for the murder of his ex-girlfriend, Jennifer Lockmiller -- convicted in a case for which the prosecutor admits there was no physical evidence, no eyewitness, and no confession linking Alan to the crime. In addition, evidence giving Alan an alibi several hours away from the scene of the crime at his parents' home and other evidence pointing to another potential suspect was neglected in his initial trial. In spite of all of this, Alan lost his original appeal, and the Illinois Supreme Court had previously refused the reopening of his case.

I was mortified, reading newspaper accounts of the original trial (not on the web, since it occurred in the mid-90's), at the way that Alan's character was questioned -- arguments between him and his girlfriend that seemed normal and reasonable for any fading college relationship were being used to vilify him and provide the prosecutors with a motive, similar to the way the prosecution used involvement with Wicca and heavy metal music as the focus of the argument against the West Memphis Three. I'm concerned that the Discovery Channel documentary on Alan's case, referenced in my first link and airing this Saturday, will do the same and go for sheer sensationalism.

The huge number of exonerations of the innocent in Illinois over the past 20 years is rather frightening, so frightening that Governor George Ryan -- previously in favor of capital punishment -- called a moratorium on the death penalty in 2000 after more people on death row had been exonerated than put to death. Regardless of how the case turns out, I applaud the work of the Northwestern U. Center on Wrongful Convictions, both for working on Alan's case since 2002, and for providing legal services to those who otherwise would not be able to afford adequate legal counsel to combat a potentially wrongful conviction. The Center has a web page to accept donations.
posted by eschatfische at 6:59 PM on February 16, 2005

Woah. Good post.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:50 PM on February 16, 2005

Hadn't heard anything about the Beaman case, and eschatfische's firsthand account (and research) make it even more compelling--just another reason why this post is great.

The CoWC is among other similar American Innocence Projects listed here, and reminded me of this great PBS-Frontline series which also mentioned them as a resource.
posted by dhoyt at 9:21 PM on February 16, 2005

Fantastic, fantastic post, eschatfische. When I lived in Chicago I volunteered on a number of the Illinois cases you mention above, so I think it's incredibly urgent that we keep hammering home this information.
posted by scody at 9:35 PM on February 16, 2005

The episode of "This American Life" entitled Perfect Evidence is among the most heartrending accounts of a wrongful conviction I've ever heard.

From the episode description:
This is the story of some teenagers who were wrongfully convicted of murder and served 15 years in prison. DNA set them free, then convicted the two men who really did the crime. Shane DuBow reports on how the police framed them with the crime in the first place, and what it's like to be in prison when you know you're innocent. ...

Snitch. The story of how common and perfectly legal police interrogation procedures, procedures without violence or torture, were able to get an average 14-year-old suburban kid to confess to murdering his own sister... even though DNA evidence later proved that he hadn't done the crime.
The last word of the story sent chills through me.
posted by grrarrgh00 at 5:56 AM on February 17, 2005

grrarrgh00: That's why you never talk to the cops without a lawyer. I swear the justice system in this country is like a disease that feeds on the poor, and ignorant.

Oh well, outrage fatigue and all.
posted by delmoi at 8:34 AM on February 17, 2005

outrage fatigue

Alas, people have already had their opportunity to take seriously the implications of exonerated innocents, and it hasn't done much for the cause of justice.

IMHO, we need a high profile case of a demonstrably (as in 100% DNA proof) innocent person who has already been put to death, before people will maybe grasp the gravity of this problem.
posted by Zurishaddai at 4:25 PM on February 17, 2005

Good post, eschatfische.

Here's a 2003 column from that dicusses the case and casts a scathing eye on the local justice system:

The history of McLean County justice is not a storied one – it’s a tale full of slipshod investigations, botched trials, trigger happy cops, a revolving door between the state’s attorney’s office, the public defender’s office, the judge’s chambers and the local bar association, and complacent, malleable juries more worried about their meal breaks than dispensing justice.
posted by taz at 1:34 AM on February 18, 2005

Another 'This American Life' on an overturned wrongful conviction; it's the whole show on 2/11/05, "DIY":

Also, a NorCal Innocence Project student group just celebrated their first overturned conviction.
posted by obloquy at 3:57 PM on February 19, 2005

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