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July 16, 2013

An Exoneree’s Gift

by Dan Rodriguez

From time to time I report on the remarkable gifts people have given us to support our work here at the Law School, and today I want to tell you about a gift I find particularly inspiring.

Terrill Swift was wrongfully convicted of rape and murder at the age of seventeen, and spent seventeen years in prison for it, until the hard work and perseverance of the students, faculty, and staff in the Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth led to his exoneration in January of 2012. (You may recall that we wrote about his case in the Fall 2012 issue of the Northwestern Law Reporter.)

In cases of wrongful conviction, Illinois law allows monetary damages. For his years in prison, the state paid Terrill roughly $210,000. The first thing Terrill did upon receiving this payment was to make a Wigmore-level gift to the Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth.

He told CWCY staff attorney Joshua Tepfer that he had been waiting a long time to do this.

This gift is, on one level, a way of saying thank you to the people involved in an individual exoneration. But it also illustrates the broader continuum: since sometimes things go horribly wrong in our justice system, we must work individually and collectively to not only correct those mistakes when they happen, but do all we can to make sure they don’t happen again. Even though he is no longer wrongfully incarcerated, Terrill knows the work continues and his gift supports that effort.

My warmest thanks to Terrill for his gift and his extraordinary generosity, and to my outstanding colleagues in the Bluhm Legal Clinic for their tireless efforts.

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