innocence blog

A Web log for the Innocence Institute of Point Park University

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Inmate Exonerated by DNA Urges Youngsters to Work Hard

This article appeared in the Hartford Courant on September 26, 2006:

Inmate exonerated by DNA urges youngsters to work hard

Associated Press

NEWINGTON, Conn. -- Adjusting to freedom hasn't been easy for James Tillman, a prison inmate for 18 years.
Tillman, whose conviction on a rape charge was overturned last summer following updated DNA evidence, has recently been speaking with young men considered at-risk of going to prison.

"I can't dwell on what happened because that doesn't get me anywhere," he said before
speaking to a group of teenage boys in Newington on Monday. "I'd rather do what I can to help these kids."

Three months after the DNA evidence led to his exoneration and release from prison, Tillman spoke publicly for the first time about how his faith in God and determination to find purpose helped him overcome his wrongful conviction.

"Things are coming along but I'm still getting used to everything," he said.

Since his release in July, Tillman continues to adjust to life as a free man, such as driving a car or living according to his schedule, not that of a prison.

He has taken a job with the Capitol Region Education Council and his lawyers have established a fund for private donations for him and his family.

Tillman, 45, served 18 years of a 45-year prison sentence after being convicted of raping and beating a woman in downtown Hartford in 1988. The victim identified him as her attacker, but Tillman was exonerated after DNA testing showed he could not have been the suspect.

Tillman is the first prisoner to be freed by lawyers for the state Innocence Project, a state public defender's program that tries to use advances in DNA and other testing to free those who have been wrongfully convicted.

On Monday, Tillman spoke to youngsters as part of a mentoring program.

One youngster asked about prison food. Another youth wanted to know how much time inmates have to shower every day.

Tillman addressed a 12-year-old boy who was caught nodding off during the program."I was the same way when I was your age," he told him. "You need to pay attention because I'm trying to help you. We're all trying to help you."

Tillman urged the youngsters to work hard to overcome the obstacles they face."Look at me. I went to prison for something I didn't do," he said. "What do you think will happen if you go out and actually do something that can land you in jail?"

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