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Roosevelt graduate leaves behind wrongful conviction, taking step forward toward dream of being a lawyer

Posted: 05/02/2012
Fourteen years ago Jarrett Adams was sent to prison, spending more than eight years behind bars on a sexual-assault conviction that was overturned by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Chicago, which cited ineffective legal counsel in its ruling, in 2006.

Today, Adams not only works as an investigator in the Circuit’s Federal Defender Program in Chicago. He is also about to become a Roosevelt University graduate – a key step in his plan to become a lawyer who will help free the wrongfully convicted and will work to prevent wrongful convictions from taking place in the future.

“My motivation, going forward, is to get a law degree,” said Adams, 31, of Chicago, who will receive his bachelor’s degree in criminal justice during the Roosevelt University Commencement at the Auditorium Theatre on Friday, May 4.

“No one should have to go through what I did,” added Adams, who has been inducted into the University’s Franklin Honors Society with a 3.93 grade point average and who will begin law school at Loyola University in the fall.
“I want to touch and inspire those who don’t have a lot of options,” said Adams.  “I want to give them hope and help them to see that no matter what you go through in life, achieving a dream is possible,” he said.

Adams was convicted of sexual assault shortly after graduating from Hillcrest High School in Country Club Hills. He had been attending a party with friends at the University of Wisconsin campus in Whitewater on Sept. 5, 1998, when he and his friends were accused of a gang rape.

He remembers telling the public defender that he didn’t do it. “There was no medical or DNA evidence.  All there was, was her word against ours and the public defender told me I wouldn’t be convicted.”

However, a jury did convict him, and he was sentenced to 28 years behind bars, leaving Adams to set about provinghis innocence while inside the Dodge Correctional Institution in Waupun, Wis., where he researched his case during weekly visits to the prison’s law library.

“He actively and effectively participated in constructing his defense, and he did it well. Often times, working with Jarrett was more like working with a colleague than a client,” attorney Keith Findley of the Wisconsin Innocence Project, which helped free Adams, told the National Defender Investigator Association’s publication, Eagle’s Eye, in December 2011.

The Innocence project focused on the ineffectiveness of the attorney who handled Adams’ case, specifically his counsel’s failure to call a critical witness that the attorney knew about at the time and who could have corroborated Adams’ side of the story.
After the Seventh Circuit’s reversal of his conviction, the state of Wisconsin dropped all charges against Adams. Freed in February 2007, he enrolled in South Suburban Community College in South Holland, Ill., getting his associate’s degree in May of 2009. He has been studying at Roosevelt since the fall of 2009.

“Jarrett’s quest for justice extends beyond his own experiences to compassion for others,” said Roosevelt University Assistant Professor Carl Zimring, who advised Adams on his research paper about flaws in the nation’s juvenile justice system. “The paper he developed is something that he can build on going forward,” said Zimring.
“This is a student with a passion and a work ethic that speak directly to the University’s mission of social justice,” Zimring added. “”I look forward to seeing him put his talents to work in the future.”

While attending Roosevelt, Adams landed a job in 2011 with the Seventh Circuit’s Federal Defender Program where he currently works with lawyers and indigent defendants.

“How did I get to this point? It couldn’t have happened without my education,” said Adams. “Roosevelt has been a place where the professors are willing to be flexible when you’re working full time. The most important part, though, is the University’s social justice mission. It’s why I came here. I want to give back and help others so that they don’t have to go through what I did.”