With help from the Illinois Innocence Project, a man is expected to leave prison Wednesday after serving 14 years for a murder he's adamantly denied committing.
Anthony Murray, whose last address before prison was in Chicago, pleaded no contest to a charge of a second-degree murder on Tuesday in Marion County Circuit Court, allowing him to walk out of jail. The Alford plea means he does not admit guilt, but concedes prosecutors have enough evidence to convict him.
Murray was serving 45 years in prison in the 1998 stabbing of Seneca Jones when he asked for help from the Illinois Innocence Project, which includes students and staff from the University of Illinois at Springfield, the Southern Illinois University Law School and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign College of Law. The team found new evidence pointing to Murray's innocence, Executive Director Larry Golden said.
According to court records, Jones was stabbed behind a Centralia apartment duplex, then fled the scene in his car. Officers found him dead nearby, still in his car, after responding to a car accident. Different stories told over the years include Murray, now 41, stabbing Jones during a robbery attempt with several other men, and Murray not being present while another man is accused of stabbing Jones.
Murray's first conviction had been overturned because a juror failed to mention knowing Jones and attending his funeral. A judge vacated the second conviction, saying Murray had not gotten adequate representation during the trial.
Golden said while the group is happy Murray will be coming home, feelings are mixed because he was not fully acquitted.
"This put him in a position to have to plead to something he didn't do," Golden said. "We'd rather he walk out totally free and clear. Unfortunately, he could not do that. To go through a retrial could mean more months ... and there's always the risk that something could happen and it wouldn't end up the way we all think it should.
"We're very confident we were able to demonstrate his innocence."
Harris is the fifth person since 2003 — and the second this year — to have a case overturned with help from the Illinois Innocence project.
Tuesday, Murray was transported to the Graham Correctional Facility in Hillsboro, Ill., so he could be processed out of the state correction system.
Hillsboro is about 60 miles northeast of St. Louis.