Benard McKinley Granted Parole, Headed to Northwestern Law School

Last week, our client Benard McKinley was granted parole after spending 22 years in prison. While incarcerated, Benard devoted himself to studying and growing. He became certified as a paralegal and earned his GED in 2011. He was selected as one of 40 students to take part in Northwestern’s Prison Education Program, a groundbreaking program that provides a liberal arts education to incarcerated people. At NPEP he studied political science, graduating last year with his Bachelor’s degree. This year, Benard earned his admission to Northwestern Pritzker School of Law’s Class of 2027.

Benard was originally sentenced to 100 years in prison at only 16 years old. In the time since his conviction, courts have begun to reconsider how they evaluate juvenile offenders, understanding that harsh sentences such as Life Without Parole are often unjust as applied to youthful offenders.

Together with Brian Nisbet of Winston & Strawn, Karl Leonard of the Exoneration Project filed a post-conviction petition challenging Benard’s sentence. That resulted in a new sentencing hearing, after which Benard was sentenced to 39 years in prison. On appeal, the Illinois Appellate Court ruled that this sentence was too harsh and did not adequately take into account Benard’s age and commitment to rehabilitation. The appellate court reduced Benard’s sentence to 25 years.

In 2019, Illinois enacted legislation providing parole opportunities to certain individuals who committed crimes when they were under the age of 21. Benard applied, but was initially rejected because the Prisoner Review Board concluded that the statute did not apply to him. Following litigation, a court ordered the Prisoner Review Board to consider Benard’s parole application.

Last week, the Prisoner Review Board voted to grant Benard parole. This will allow him to attend law school in the fall. We are grateful for the Prisoner Review Board’s decision and we are proud to represent Benard!



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