Philanthropic group to invest $3.2 million to overturn unjust convictions, support exonerees

The funding will significantly boost the operations of Life After Justice, a Chicago group founded by two men whose convictions were overturned after spending nearly 10 years in prison.

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Attorney Jarrett Adams talks with a client at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse, Friday morning, March 9, 2018. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Attorney Jarrett Adams, co-founder of Life After Justice, had his own conviction overturned after he served 10 years in prison.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Philanthropic group Chicago Beyond has donated $3.2 million to the nonprofit Life After Justice to help it overturn wrongful convictions and support exonerees with mental health programs.

The funding will significantly boost the operations of Life After Justice, a Chicago organization founded by two exonerees that has been running on a volunteer basis.

“Chicago Beyond is proud to support a transformative organization like Life After Justice,” Chicago Beyond founder and CEO Liz Dozier said in a statement announcing the gift.

The money will help Life After Justice hire its first paid staff for legal matters, including case discovery and litigation.

The gift is also expected to help the group transform the criminal legal system. The group is seeking to secure a clemency petition in Virginia for Terrence Richardson and Ferrone Claiborne, the group’s first major legal challenge.

Richardson and Claiborne have served more than 20 years in federal prison for the 1998 murder of a Virginia police officer, despite a federal jury finding them not guilty of the crime. 

Richardson and Claiborne pleaded guilty to the murder in state court, accepting plea deals to avoid death sentences. Years later, federal prosecutors added drug trafficking charges, landing both of them in federal court. They were found guilty of a drug charge that would typically result in 10 years in prison, but the judge increased and enhanced their sentence because of their earlier guilty pleas.

Life After Justice was founded a decade ago by Jarrett Adams and Antione Day, two Black men whose own convictions were overturned after they each served nearly 10 years in prison.

After he was exonerated, Adams got a law degree and clerked at the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals — the same court that overturned his conviction. He began working with criminal justice groups like the Innocence Project, opened his law practice, then started Life After Justice to help other exonerees like himself.

“The disproportionate effect the criminal system is having on communities of color can only be described as persistent traumatic stress,” Adams said in a statement. “The holistic approach of LAJ is to exonerate the wrongfully convicted, pass laws that protect against wrongful convictions and provide the mental healthcare support that is desperately needed.”

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