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Northwestern’s role in overturning the Illinois death penalty observed

Pritzker Law and School of Communication present “The Exonerated” April 15
Harry Lennix, Katrina Lenk and E. Patrick Johnson
Alumni Harry Lennix and Katrina Lenk and School of Communication Dean E. Patrick Johnson are featured in the April 15 reading of 'The Exonerated.'

Stage and screen star Harry Lennix (C ’86), School of Communication Dean E. Patrick Johnson and Tony Award winner Katrina Lenk, a graduate of Bienen School of Music, will be featured in a dramatic reading of “The Exonerated” at 6:30 p.m. CDT, Thursday, April 15.

Co-presented by Northwestern’s Pritzker School of Law and School of Communication, this special online event recognizes the 10th anniversary of the abolition of the death penalty in Illinois and the role of the Center on Wrongful Convictions (CWC) in its overturning.

Based on the documented stories of six innocent people sentenced to death, “The Exonerated” ran off-Broadway in 2000 to great acclaim, running 600 performances, and featuring actors such as Richard Dreyfuss.

A performance of the “The Exonerated” was organized by the CWC in December 2002 for then-Illinois Gov. George Ryan. In 1999, Ryan had issued a moratorium on executions in Illinois. 

“By 2003, Northwestern’s Center on Wrongful Convictions and our partners had worked together to exonerate no fewer than 13 innocent people off Illinois’ death row,” said Laura Nirider, clinical professor of law at Pritzker and co-director of Northwestern’s Center on Wrongful Convictions. “A few weeks after watching the play, the Governor came to Lincoln Hall at the Law School to make a historic announcement: He commuted the death sentences of all the men on Illinois’ death row — more than 160 — to life sentences because the risk of executing an innocent was too great. The moratorium and the mass commutation led to the abolition of the death penalty in Illinois on March 9, 2011.”

Read the full text of Gov. Ryan’s speech as published Jan. 11, 2003, in the New York Times. 

To date, a total of 21 innocent men who had been sentenced to death have been exonerated.

Performed by Northwestern faculty, alumni and students under the direction of Broadway and television star Jordan Donica, the prerecorded reading will be accessible only during the virtual event.

The program also includes a post-performance discussion with the actors, alongside Nirider and death row exoneree Gary Gauger, whose case was overturned by the Center.

“The occasion of this staged reading of ‘The Exonerated,’ marking the 10-year anniversary of the abolition of the death penalty in the State of Illinois, reflects the role that art may play in political resistance to effect social change,” said School of Communication Dean E. Patrick Johnson. “This collaboration between the Center on Wrongful Convictions, the Pritzker School of Law, and the School of Communication’s faculty, students, alumni and staff speaks to the natural synergies among social justice, the law and artistic practice. As an artist, scholar, and administrator, it has been a privilege to be able to be a part of this historic collaboration.”

The invitation-only event is open to all members of the Northwestern community and select invitees.

RSVP online for a link to the event. For more information visit Northwestern Pritzker School of Law.