Cook County SA Kim Foxx speaks exclusively on National Wrongful Conviction Day: 'often at a loss'

ByJasmine Minor WLS logo
Monday, October 2, 2023
Foxx speaks exclusively on National Wrongful Conviction Day
Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx spoke exclusively on National Wrongful Conviction Day. Juan Hernandez was one of those freed.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- For the first time, the Cook County State's Attorney's Office honored National Wrongful Conviction Day Monday.

The day was spent celebrating the resilience of exonerees while learning from past mistakes.

State's Attorney Kim Foxx spoke exclusively to ABC7 Chicago on the topic.

Foxx said she knows the system has failed many people and many families.

There is a long list of those who say they're still fighting for their freedom. But that's why she said she's not hiding from it, but, instead, facing it head-on.

There was story after story.

"I did 25 years," said Juan Hernandez, who was wrongfully convicted.

Since 1989, data from the National Registry of Exonerations show over 4,000 years has been taken by wrongful convictions in the state.

"I was numb. I couldn't cry. I couldn't say anything. It was unbelievable, to hear them say 'guilty,' knowing that I have nothing to do at all with this case whatsoever," Hernandez said.

The room was filled with those like Hernandez, who all know that very feeling.

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"I'm often at a loss. I've apologized to all of them for convictions that I did not secure," Foxx said.

Foxx takes this personally, as she met many of those she expunged for the first time Monday.

"To see them smiling, to see them reach out, to see them put their arms around me -- it's overwhelming," Foxx said. "We host this so that we don't put our head in the sand around a system that has failed many."

Illinois leads the country with the most exonerations in 2022. But data show the state still has a false confession rate that is twice as high as the national average.

Hernandez said they never caught the person who actually committed the crime in his case.

He was convicted for attempted murder in 1997. But he wasn't present when the crime was committed.

"I felt electricity in my body, was like the Holy Spirit telling me to get up and fight for your kids," Hernandez's mother Esther Hernandez said.

And fight she did, for the next 25 years. And now he's living down in Florida, where he started his own business, while keeping the hope alive for others like him.

"I'm grateful. I'm free. I'm out," Juan Hernandez said.

"Knowing you didn't do something and still keep fighting, that level of resilience is what we are celebrating and again reflecting on how we got here," Foxx said.