He Was Wrongly Convicted Of Murder And Had His Sentence Vacated. Illinois Refuses To Issue A Certificate Of Innocence.

African American in Prison - stock photo
Doug Berry via Getty Images

One of the most difficult things for those falsely accused or falsely convicted is to move on with their lives when the specter of their alleged wrongdoing follows them beyond any sort of legal win.

One way states can alleviate some of the difficulty for the wrongly convicted is to issues a certificate of innocence to say, clearly, that this person did not do the crime of which they were accused. For Eric Blackmon, whose 2002 murder conviction was vacated by a federal court, which also ordered that he be released from prison, that final proof that he was innocent now eludes him. The Cook County State’s Attorney dropped charges against Blackmon last January, but it now refuses to issue him a certificate of innocence, claiming that despite the evidence and the federal court ruling, it still believes Blackmon is a murderer.

Assistant State’s Attorney Derek Kuhn, according to the not-for-profit journalism organization Injustice Watch, has been clear that Illinois does not think Blackmon is truly innocent, claiming in a motion to oppose Blackmon’s certificate of innocence that the conviction was “set aside for reasons that were collateral to the question of guilt.”

Perhaps Kuhn and his office truly believe Blackmon committed the crime, but another reason the State’s Attorney office might not want to issue the certificate is because it would not only expunge Blackmon’s record, but also require the state to pay him $10,000 per year of wrongful incarceration. That would total $160,000 since Blackmon spent nearly 16 years in prison.

Blackmon was arrested and charged in September 2002 for the July 4, 2002 murder of Tony Cox. Two eyewitnesses named Blackmon as the shooter during police lineups. Neither of the eyewitnesses knew Blackmon previously. Blackmon, however, has always maintained that he was hosting a barbecue the day of the shooting and couldn’t have been the murderer. Blackmon testified on Tuesday that he “was at the barbecue from 2 p.m. until at least 10 p.m. that night, and that the alibi witnesses he collected during his time in prison corroborate his story,” Injustice Watch reported.

Further, Blackmon said he had been playing music from his car’s speakers the whole day, so the battery was drained and he couldn’t have gone to the shooting. The outlet reported that during “cross-examination, Kuhn questioned Blackmon in detail about his time at the barbecue, focusing in particular on when people arrived and left.” Blackmon, who is now a paralegal and studying at Northeastern Illinois University to become a lawyer, “appeared confident and directly pushed back on the framing of Kuhn’s line of questioning on one occasion.”

Blackmon’s attorneys called human perception and memory expert Geoffrey Loftus, who testified as to how the two eyewitnesses could have been mistaken. False identification from witnesses is one of the leading causes of wrongful convictions.

One of the two eyewitnesses, Frencshun Reese, has recanted her testimony. The state plans to call the other witness, Lisa McDowell, to testify in order to keep Blackmon from completely being exonerated for the crime.