Kevin Fye | November 18, 2020
Patrick Pursley spent two decades in prison for a murder he did not commit, receiving his exoneration in 2019. While proving his innocence, he also changed Illinois law. Pursley was recently invited by the Klau Center for Civil and Human Rights to address law students via Zoom along with a member of his defense team, Notre Dame Law School graduate Kevin Murphy ’14 J.D.
Tragic murder and conviction
In April 1993, a member of the Rockford, Illinois, fire department was murdered in his car during an attempted robbery. With intense political pressure to solve the crime looming, police accepted information from a paid informant that implicated Patrick Pursley. While no blood, fingerprint, or DNA evidence tied him to the crime scene, Pursley was charged with the murder. Central to their case, the state sought to prove that a gun from his home matched bullets found at the crime scene.
Solely on flawed testimony from the state’s ballistic expert, Pursley was convicted of the murder and sentenced to life in prison. Inconsistencies in the testimony were apparent even to the trial judge; declining to sentence him to death because of them, the judge nevertheless ordered him held in captivity for the remainder of his life.
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