Mission & Clinic
The criminal justice system is not perfect. Innocent people are sometimes convicted of crimes they did not commit. When that occurs, the consequences for the lives of the wrongfully convicted and their families are truly devastating. By investigating and petitioning courts to reverse wrongful convictions, our Exoneration Project is dedicated to restoring justice.
Beyond assisting our clients with their claims of actual innocence in court, we also strive to shed light on the problems in the criminal legal system that allow innocent people to be convicted of crimes they did not commit by advocating for greater accountability in the justice system. We work with community-minded organizations to advocate for our exonerees so that they are are able to re-enter society with the support they need to succeed.
In addition to their own private pro bono practice representing our clients, several of the Exoneration Project attorney’s also serve as Lecturers in Law at the University of Chicago Law School, where they run a free legal clinic with the support and contributions of current law students. By dedicating our time and resources to a clinical program, we believe that we are able to provide the most rigorous representation of our clients possible, while also providing up-and-coming attorneys exposure in this crucial area of legal work.
Students working in our project assist in every aspect of representation, including selecting cases, investigating and developing evidence, as well as in-court litigation of post-conviction petitions, petitions for DNA testing, and federal habeas petitions.
Through participation in our project, students explore issues of error and inequality in the criminal justice system, including police and prosecutorial misconduct, the use of faulty scientific evidence, coerced confessions, unreliable eyewitness testimony, and ineffective assistance of counsel.
Russel Ainsworth, Lecturer in Law
Russell Ainsworth is a partner at the civil rights law firm Loevy & Loevy. Russell graduated from the University of Wisconsin Law School in 2002, magna cum laude. Following law school, he spent one year clerking for Judge Paul Lundsten of the Wisconsin Court of Appeals. He joined Loevy & Loevy in the Fall of 2003 where he became a founding member of the Exoneration Project.
Gayle Horn, Staff Attorney
Gayle Horn is a partner at the civil rights law firm Loevy & Loevy, and a founding member of the Exoneration Project. Gayle graduated magna cum laude from New York University Law School in 2004. Following law school, Gayle spent one year as a law clerk to the Honorable Milton I. Shadur in the Northern District of Illinois before joining Loevy & Loevy.
Karl Leonard, Staff Attorney
Karl Leonard graduated from The University of Chicago Law School in 2009 where he participated in the Exoneration Project clinic as a law student. After law school, Karl was an associate at Winston & Strawn, where his practice focused on complex commercial litigation at both the trial and appellate levels, intellectual property disputes, and criminal defense. In addition, Karl continued to partner extensively with the Exoneration Project to assist wrongfully convicted clients. In 2016, Karl joined the Exoneration Project as a staff attorney.
Debra Loevy, Staff Attorney
Debra Loevy graduated cum laude from the University of Michigan Law School in 1995. After law school Debra spent years addressing poverty law issues at the Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago and at Vermont Legal Aid. Debra also spent several years focusing on criminal defense appeals at the Illinois Office of the State Appellate Defender before joining Loevy & Loevy and the Exoneration Project in 2007.
Eva Nagao, Director
Eva Nagao joined the Exoneration Project legal team in 2009 after graduating from Guilford College with a B.A. in Sociology. Eva served on the board of several local non-profit organizations, including the Chicago Freedom School and Project Nia, and continues to organize around Chicago area criminal justice reform with projects like the Liberation Library and We Charge Genocide. She currently hosts the MTV investigative series on wrongful convictions, “Unlocking the Truth.”
David Owens, Lecturer in Law
David B. Owens received his J.D. and an M.A. in Philosophy from Stanford University in 2010. After law school, David clerked for the Honorable Diane P. Wood of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, and the Honorable Myron H. Thompson of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama in Montgomery, Alabama. David returned to Chicago and joined the Exoneration Project in 2012.
Atzimba Parra, Paralegal
Atzimba Parra joined the EP team as Project Paralegal in the spring of 2015. A graduate of Stanford University, she moved out to Chicago to participate in New Sector Alliance, an AmeriCorps program that focuses on strengthening organizational and capacity-building strategies in the social sector. She is applying the skills she learned to support the Exoneration Project legal team on managing all EP cases. She has worked with communities in the Bay area and Chicago around youth empowerment and education access and is interested in further exploring those issues within the criminal justice system.
Elliot Slosar, Staff Attorney
Elliot Slosar joined the Exoneration Project in the spring of 2008, working full-time as an in-house investigator while pursuing his law degree. After graduating from college, Elliot published a study on the Illinois Capital Litigation Trust Fund and was named to the executive boards of Students Against the Death Penalty (SADP) and the Abolition in Illinois Movement (AIM). Prior to working with the EP, Elliot worked for the Office of the State Appellate Defender in the Death Penalty Trial Assistance Unit. He graduated from DePaul University College of Law in 2013.
Samantha Steiber, Social Worker
Samantha Steiber, LSW joined the Exoneration Project in May 2017. Samantha graduated from the New York University School of Social Work in 2012 with a Masters in Social Work. Since becoming a social worker, Samantha has worked in the fields of community mental health, substance use treatment, and alternative education. Samantha is passionate about mental health reform and spends her off-hours volunteering locally with the Mental Health Justice Team at ONE Northside.
Josh Tepfer, Lecturer in Law
Josh Tepfer joined the Exoneration Project as an attorney in May 2015. Josh has been representing the criminally accused for over a decade, first as an attorney with the Chicago Office of the State Appellate Defender and then as an Assistant Clinical Professor with Northwestern University School of Law, where he served seven years as the Project Director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth. Josh graduated magna cum laude from the University of Minnesota Law School in 2004.
Tara Thompson, Lecturer in Law
Tara Thompson is a partner at the civil rights law firm Loevy & Loevy. Tara graduated with honors from the University of Chicago Law School in 2003. Following law school, Tara worked as an associate in Mayer Brown’s Chicago office, leaving in 2006 to clerk for Judge Elaine Bucklo of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. After completing her clerkship, she joined Loevy & Loevy in 2007 where she became a founding member of the Exoneration Project.
Elizabeth Wang, Staff Attorney
Liz Wang is a partner at the civil rights law firm Loevy & Loevy and works from its Boulder, Colorado office. She graduated from the University of Chicago Law School in 2005, and joined the Exoneration Project in the fall of 2008. Prior to joining the EP, Liz served as a law clerk for the Honorable Harry D. Leinenweber on the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, and as a law clerk for the Honorable Betty B. Fletcher on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Prior to her clerkships, she was a Legal Fellow at the American Civil Liberties Union Drug Law Reform Project.