PICK OF THE DAY: Illinois Innocence Project: he Illinois Innocence Project has continued to overturn the wrongful convictions of innocent incarcerated individuals for years.
To honor in a broader sense this injustice, the group based at UIS, will host one of the dozens events taking place across the globe recognizing International Wrongful Conviction Day. The group's event will host a screening of the recently released documentary, "Bloodsworth: An Innocent Man," Tuesday, October 4th from 6-8:00 p.m. in the Student Life Building at 2380 Theodore Dreiser Lane.
The film depicts Kirk Bloodsworth's life in 1985, where he was sentenced to die in a Maryland penitentiary for the brutal rape and murder of a 9-year-old girl. A crime he did not commit. He eventually won his freedom in 1993, making him the first death row inmate exonerated by DNA evidence.
"Melissa Calusinski's long quest for a new trial in the death of a Deerfield toddler was dealt a major setback Friday, when a Lake County judge rejected a bid to reverse her conviction. Judge Daniel Shanes, who oversaw Calusinski's trial five years ago and sentenced her to 31 years in prison, said her lawyers' claims that she didn't get a fair trial "fall apart like a house of cards." He said that nothing that was presented during three days of recent testimony in the case convinced him that new evidence exists or undermined his confidence in the verdict the trial jury reached. "Having lost at trial, much of these claims now amount to Monday-morning quarterbacking," Shanes said. Calusinski, who turns 30 on Tuesday, sat stoically as the judge announced his ruling in the high-profile case. Outside court, her father Paul Calusinski said he was disappointed in the outcome but not surprised. Attorneys for the Carpentersville family have vowed to press on and have already said they will appeal. "They framed my daughter for a murder she didn't do," Paul Calusinski said after decision. His daughter confessed to the crime, but advocates have long asserted the admission was coerced. Melissa Calusinski's lawyer Kathleen Zellner said after the hearing that the judge "totally missed the point" about the evidence her team presented but said she was "just pleased the judge made so many mistakes in his ruling."........The day he died, Jan. 14, 2009, Benjamin was found unresponsive in his bouncy chair at Minee Subee in the Park day care center in Lincolnshire, with foam and blood coming from his nose. Paramedics tried to revive him but could not, and he was pronounced dead an hour later — before his parents could see him. During a 9-hour interrogation by police, Calusinski, who worked at the day care center and was supervising Benjamin when he fell ill, repeatedly denied harming the boy. But eventually, she confessed to slamming Benjamin's head on the floor shortly before his death. At a hearing this summer to reconsider her conviction, defense attorneys said that newly discovered X-rays show Benjamin did not have a skull fracture the day he died, as alleged, but suffered from a prior head injury. Zellner said the X-ray files that defense attorneys received before her trial had been compressed to a fraction of their original size, so that they were unreadable at trial, which she said amounted to a prosecutorial violation. In addition, the doctor who performed the boy's initial autopsy, Eupil Choi, later admitted that he failed to diagnose a chronic subdural hematoma, a collection of blood on the brain's surface from an old injury. Prosecutors responded by saying that the X-rays were not new, merely the same images that the defense could have brightened with software at any time. In addition, Choi maintained that the discovery of the old injury did not change his opinion that the boy died of a recent head trauma. And prosecutor Jason Humke argued that doctors debated the nature of the boy's injuries during the trial, and the jury weighed that at the time. In comments leading up to his ruling, Shanes also dismissed the notion that the X-rays in question were new. Zellner attacked the judge's statements after the hearing, saying the X-rays previously given to defense lawyers were unreadable. "It isn't that there's a second set of X-rays. It's that the original X-rays ... were compressed. ... The original set was not turned over in the format it existed in," she said........ Calusinski, a 2005 graduate of Barrington High School with no criminal history, did not testify at her trial or the recent hearing. Before Benjamin's death, court records indicate, Calusinski lived with her parents, and had worked in retail, food service and at her parents' bait shop. She had done a lot of baby-sitting, including four years as a nanny, and earned praise from parents. One of the complicating factors of the case is that testimony indicated that Benjamin had a habit of "head-banging," or throwing himself back while sitting, hitting his head on the floor. But his doctor testified that this was not uncommon in other children and did not normally lead to serious injury. Slightly more than two months before his death, workers discovered a golf-ball-sized bump on the back of Benjamin's head. Two days later, he had a high fever, and his mother, Amy, took him to a doctor, and three days after that, he still had a fever, was prescribed antibiotics and recovered. At a well-baby visit about six weeks before Benjamin died, his primary pediatrician said he was "growing beautifully." Two days before his death, Benjamin vomited numerous times at the day care, went home and slept through the night. Two days later, day care workers reported that he seemed happy and behaving normally, and ate grilled cheese and soup at lunch. That day, a co-worker testified, she thought Benjamin fell and hit his head on the floor, though she did not see it, but she heard him cry and found him lying on the floor. She took him to his bouncy chair, where he was starting to fall asleep when the co-worker left with Calusinski in the room. Calusinski later found Benjamin unresponsive and called for help. The case took a turn after the new Lake County coroner, Thomas Rudd, looked at the autopsy evidence and found slides that he said showed an old injury similar to a scab inside the brain.
Former Cook County Medical Examiner Nancy Jones was called in as a consultant and agreed that the boy had suffered a prior injury. A software expert testified that the X-ray images became visible only after going back to view the coroner's original images. But prosecutors maintained any old injury was insignificant, and they relied on experts who testified that Benjamin died of a sudden severe injury that day. The case drew national attention after CBS News ran an episode of "48 Hours" about the case, with excerpts from Calusinski's video interrogation, and an interview with her in prison. Shanes, a former Lake County prosecutor himself, granted Calusinski's request for a hearing on the matter, but Zellner said it's extremely rare for trial judges to reverse the outcomes of their trials.