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Editorial: Alvarez’s office a model for justice

Cook County State’s Attorney AnitAlvarez  announce thher office is dismissing criminal charges against  Alprentiss Nash 37 17-year-old murder

Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez announce that her office is dismissing criminal charges against Alprentiss Nash, 37 in a 17-year-old murder case. Thursday, August 30, 2012 | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

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Updated: October 1, 2012 5:46PM

Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez walked up to a podium Thursday to make an announcement that would have been unthinkable not so long ago.

Alvarez said her new Conviction Integrity Unit had helped to reverse a 15-year-old conviction that now looks shaky. As a result, she said, 37-year-old Alprentiss Nash — who was serving 80 years for a 1995 Chicago murder — would be freed.

All too often in the past, prosecutors have fought to preserve convictions at all costs, even in cases of extreme doubt. Alvarez’s office is to be commended for taking a different approach.

In recent years, awareness has grown of the alarming problem of wrongful convictions. In February, Alvarez set up the new unit to re-examine old cases where justice might have gone off the rails. The Nash case is the first one in which the unit’s work helped to overturn a conviction. Other cases also are being re-examined, and “we will likely see more cases like this,” Alvarez said.

Nash was sent to prison in 1997 on the word of three eyewitnesses, even though their testimony had been substantially discredited at trial.

The presumed killer, though, had discarded a black ski mask near the crime scene, and as appeals worked their way through the courts, it seemed likely that DNA testing could throw light on the case.

Nash’s defense lawyer, Kathleen Zellner, credited Alvarez’s office with doing even more extensive DNA testing on the mask than the defense had sought.

As a result, according to Alvarez, a “major DNA profile” was found on the mask that did not belong to Nash and that has been linked to a new suspect, who is under investigation.

Besides the DNA testing, witnesses were tracked down and re-interviewed, Alvarez said.

Even Zellner, a defense lawyer who often has tangled with prosecutors, said she was impressed.

“Their office should be the role model for other state’s attorneys across the country,” Zellner said. “It is admirable what they are doing.”

We agree.

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