ROCKFORD — Alan Beaman looks at challenges differently than most people.
After he was released from prison in 2008 and murder charges against him were dismissed the following year, Beaman started the long, difficult challenge of rebuilding a life stunted by his 1995 conviction for the murder of his former girlfriend, Jennifer Lockmiller, an Illinois State University student.
Now engaged to be married in November, the Illinois Wesleyan University graduate is looking forward to the major changes he anticipates will come with his new role as a husband to Gretchen Hasenzahl and stepfather to her daughter.
“Thus far, we are enjoying learning how we work together as a family and I have certainly found a good partner in my bride to be,” Beaman said recently.
As the 37-year-old former inmate looks beyond the 13 years he spent behind bars before the Illinois Supreme Court reversed his conviction, the challenge of earning a living is an ongoing struggle.
Beaman has worked part time at his chosen profession as a designer for a local theater company. He also has scooped snow, mowed lawns and worked as a handyman to make ends meet.
“I would definitely like to be able to make a living doing just one job, but I’m trying not to sacrifice the hope that I can do something I will enjoy for a living. I have lost too much time to waste more in a career path that will bore me,” said Beaman.
Karen Daniel, who with attorney Jeff Urdangen has represented Beaman through much of the legal process, has seen changes in her client since his release.
“When Alan first got out of prison, he was understandably in a hurry to make up for lost time. He wanted all the things he missed out on in prison — job security, financial independence, relationships — and he wanted them right away. As time has passed, though, he’s become more realistic and patient about how long it might take to achieve those goals and he’s willing to work very, very hard for them,” said Daniel.
The work to overhaul the legal system that forced him to spend more than a third of his life behind bars is never far from Beaman’s thoughts.
“I feel it is clearly my calling to walk back into that fight from which I have been delivered but this time not as prey,” he said.
Beaman has spoken to students and others on the subject of wrongful convictions.
“No one hears Alan’s story without being moved and concluding that big changes are needed. I think it’s a relief for him to tell his story, and the positive energy he receives from his audiences, big and small, has to help his healing process,” said Daniel, an attorney with the Bluhm Legal Clinic at Northwestern University College of Law.
Case remains open
McLean County State’s Attorney Bill Yoder dropped murder charges against Beaman in January 2009, but said the investigation into Lockmiller’s death remains open. Recently, Normal police officials said they are working on the case, but declined to comment on earlier statements that some evidence may be sent to the state crime lab for additional testing.
Life outside prison walls is not without its connection to the legal system.
Beaman’s lawyers have filed three legal actions — a federal lawsuit, a certificate of innocence petition and a clemency request — with the goal of legally clearing his name and removing the cloud of a murder accusation.
The lawsuit against former state’s attorney Charles Reynard, former prosecutor James Souk, several police officers, the county and Town of Normal alleges Beaman’s rights were violated when prosecutors withheld evidence that supported his defense. The case put together by Souk and Reynard, both now judges, was based on a theory that Beaman could not have made two phone calls from his home and made the trip to Normal to kill Lockmiller within the timeline compiled by authorities.
Jurors did not hear evidence of driving tests conducted by police that supported Beaman’s alibi that he was home at the time of the murder. Information on a second suspect who was in Normal the day Lockmiller died also was not given to the defense, according to the lawsuit.
A certificate of innocence petition is making its way through state courts. Beaman could receive about $177,000 in compensation from the state if the petition is successful.
Earlier this year the Illinois Prisoner Review Board heard arguments on Beaman’s clemency petition. A recommendation will be sent to Gov. Pat Quinn for his consideration.