By Keshia Bardney
A band wrongfully-convicted musicians, known as the Exoneree Band, performed for Loyola University Chicago students Thursday night at the Water Tower Campus.
The event was located at Regents Hall within Lewis Tower. It was sponsored by Loyola’s Life After Innocence program, which advocates for innocent people negatively affected by the criminal justice system. The program helps those impacted re-enter society and reclaim their rights as citizens, by providing individual legal and support services.
Ryan Costello, 23, a graduate student in public interest law, explained the importance of the Life After Innocence program.
“The Life After Innocence program work with exonerated convicts who were literally pushed out of the prison door,” he said. “There are services for paroled offenders, but not those who were exonerated. That’s where we step in. We try to help those like the band’s drummer, Antoine Day.”
The five band members were sent to prison for crimes they did not commit and were later exonerated and freed. The band members served a combined total of 87 years in prison, based on crimes ranging from murder to rape, and some members were placed on death row.
The band played their own songs, whose lyrics told personal stories and thought towards being wrongly convicted. The concert’s opening song, sung by Darby Tillis, reflected the joy of their freedom with the line, “It was Jesus who set me free!”
William Dillon took the lead on the next song and captured the crowd of 150’s hearts with the following lyric: “They framed me for murder just because they can.”
The purpose of the event was to raise awareness of wrongful convictions and raise money for legal and support service, as well as to sponsor exonerees to attend the Innocence Network Conference.
William Dillon, guitarist, spent 27 years in prison for murder and was released in 2008 when DNA testing proved his innocence.
Eddie Lowery, bass, spent nine years in prison for rape, aggravated burglary and aggravated battery charges. He was sentenced to 11 years to life in prison and was later released on parole. In 2002, he was able to obtain DNA testing on the evidence used during trial, which test results proved Lowery’s innocence.
Antoine Day, the band’s drummer, spent 10 years in prison for first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder and unlawful use of a weapon. He was sentenced to 60 years and was later exonerated on appeal.
Raymond Towler, guitarist, spent 29 years in prison for the rape of an 11-year-old girl. Twenty years later, Ohio enacted a law allowing DNA testing in limited circumstances. Towler and the Ohio Innocence Project filed for DNA testing and was granted access in 2004. The test results returned negative for his DNA sample. This proved Towler’s innocence and he was later exonerated.
Darby Tillis, the band’s harmonica player and lead singer, was sentenced to death row for murder of a hotdog stand owner and employee on Chicago’s North Side. Although there was no physical evidence, he was charged with the crime. A witness claimed she saw Tillis and another man kill the two men. Fourteen years later, there was evidence stating the witness and her boyfriend robbed the guys and shot them. Tillis was later granted pardon by George Ryan based on actual innocence.
Anabel Perez, 50, of Chicago expressed her happiness for the Exoneree Band members.
“To know that they were wrongfully convicted but still come out and become productive members of society is wonderful,” Perez said. “It is good to see them free and being expressive within their music.”
Perez explained her dedication to the Life After Innocence cause.
“My son was wrongfully convicted so I like to come to these types of events,” Perez said. “It shows me there’s hope for my son and those wrongfully convicted.”
For more information about donations toward the Life After Innocence project, check it out here.