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After nearly 20 years, prosecutors drop murder case against Eric Blackmon

Eric Blackmon talks to reporters at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse on Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2019 after a judge vacated his conviction for a 2002 murder and prosecutors dropped all charges against him. | Andy Grimm for the Sun-Times

Eric Blackmon talks to reporters at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse on Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2019 after a judge vacated his conviction for a 2002 murder and prosecutors dropped all charges against him. | Andy Grimm for the Sun-Times

Eric Blackmon worked for nearly 20 years to clear his name in a 2002 murder case, mostly on his own and from inside prison.

Last year, Blackmon, who had represented himself throughout more than a decade of court appeals, won a new trial from the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Blackmon, now 37, argued that his trial attorney failed to call alibi witnesses who could have proved he was at an Independence Day barbecue in a lot far from the fatal shooting scene.

On Wednesday, Cook County prosecutors vacated┬áBlackmon’s conviction and dropped all charges against him.

Wearing a gray, pinstriped suit and looking every inch the lawyer he hopes one day to be, a soft-spoken Blackmon told a crowd of reporters there was more work to be done to prevent wrongful convictions.

“It’s great for me to be here, but I just think about all the other guys out there,” he said. “There’s a lot of work that still needs to be done to change the system, so that you don’t see other guys like me.”

Eric Blackmon, flanked by lawyers Karen Daniel and Ron Safer, walks through the lobby of the Leighton Criminal Courthouse on Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2019 after a judge vacated his conviction for a 2002 murder and prosecutors dropped all charges against him. | Andy Grimm for the Sun-Times

Eric Blackmon, flanked by lawyers Karen Daniel and Ron Safer, walks through the lobby of the Leighton Criminal Courthouse on Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2019 after a judge vacated his conviction for a 2002 murder and prosecutors dropped all charges against him. | Andy Grimm for the Sun-Times

Blackmon was convicted in the murder of Tony Cox, a shooting that took place in broad daylight on the Fourth of July holiday. Blackmon, then 21, was arrested that September, after two eyewitnesses picked him out of a lineup as the shooter.

Blackmon, who earned a paralegal certificate while in prison, spent years collecting the names of witnesses and coordinating family members’ efforts to gather evidence on the outside.

He was not assigned an attorney until the case he had built was taken up by the 7th Circuit.

Blackmon has been free on bond since the spring of 2018, after the 7th Circuit sent the case back for a new trial. He has been working as a paralegal at a legal clinic in Lawndale.