CHAMPAIGN — Alan Beaman was taking nothing for granted Thursday as he walked into a court hearing where he expected to be finally declared innocent of the 1993 murder of Jennifer Lockmiller.
“At least I will have an official declaration, and I’m hoping that it will relieve some of the underlying fear and the reaction from the public. But the realist in me knows that the naysayers will say nay no matter,” said Beaman, who was released in 2008 after serving 13 years and three months in prison for the strangulation death of his former girlfriend.
The Illinois Supreme Court had reversed the McLean County jury verdict, calling the state’s case against the then-20-year-old Illinois Wesleyan University student tenuous. It took about five more years of legal maneuvers, hearings and evidence testing, however, to get the state to officially declare him innocent.
Judge Jeffrey Ford granted Beaman’s certificate of innocence in a 15-minute court hearing that opened with McLean County Assistant State’s Attorney Pablo Eves confirming that the county was dropping its three-year opposition to the petition.
Surrounded by his wife, Gretchen, and parents, Barry and Carol Beaman, Beaman offered a low-key reaction to the judge’s decision.
“I have officially been declared innocent by the state of Illinois. It’s a relief. Praise God. It’s a great day,” Beaman told reporters after the hearing.
Carol Beaman also waited for the final ruling before believing that her son would be exonerated by the state.
“At every turn we thought he would be released, but it’s taken a lot of turns to get here,” she said.
The ruling will allow Beaman to collect about $175,000 from the state court of claims as an exonerated person.
In deciding earlier this month to end the state’s opposition to the innocence petition, McLean County State’s Attorney Jason Chambers said the homicide investigation remains open.
Chambers’ decision follows the return of new DNA tests on vaginal swabs taken from the victim that produced two unidentified male profiles. Beaman and three other known previously considered male suspects were excluded from the results.
For Karen Daniel and Jeff Urdangen with the Bluhm Legal Clinic at Northwestern University School of Law, the innocence petitions ends more than a decade of legal wrangling on Beaman’s behalf.
The evidence at Beaman’s trial that he drove 140 miles each way from Rockford to Bloomington at high speeds to kill Lockmiller and return home before his mother could detect his absence fell far short of what was needed to convict Beaman, said Daniel.
“He was expected to prove he wasn’t and couldn’t have been in Normal at the time of the murder. There was simply no evidence,” said Daniel, adding that the state’s closing remarks at the trial comparing Beaman to Adolf Hitler were “out of control.”
Beaman, now 40, works as a machinist to support his family, which includes a 9-year-old stepdaughter and 9-month-old daughter.
Still ahead for Beaman is a federal lawsuit in which he has accused former State’s Attorney Charles Reynard, former prosecutor James Souk, four police officers, McLean County and the town of Normal with violating his civil rights and prosecutorial misconduct.
Beaman also is seeking clemency for the murder conviction. Unlike the innocence petition, clemency could insulate Beaman from ever facing charges again in Lockmiller’s death.