Staff

The Exoneration Project is staffed with EP attorneys, investigators, support staff, and a case manager. Additionally, we often collaborate with our clinic students, interns, and attorneys from the civil rights law firm Loevy & Loevy.

Erin Ackerson

Paralegal

Erin is a paralegal at the Exoneration Project. Prior to joining the EP, Erin attended the University of Wisconsin – Madison, where she received her B.A. in Psychology and Legal Studies, and was a recipient of the Irene B. Katele Outstanding Student Award. During her last year of school, she worked as a legal assistant at the State Public Defender’s Office and acted as a psychology tutor for incarcerated individuals. Erin joined the Exoneration Project in September of 2023.

Russell Ainsworth

Attorney

Russell is an attorney at the EP and 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. Russell was the founding member of the Exoneration Project in 2007.

Cindy Chekingo

Investigator

Cindy is an investigator for the Exoneration Project as well as Loevy & Loevy. Cindy graduated in 2013 from Westwood College with a Bachelor’s of Science in Criminal Justice. Cindy has worked with several organizations such as Illinois Innocence Project, Northwestern Center of Wrongful Convictions and private law firms. Cindy has been with the Exoneration Project and Loevy & Loevy since 2013.

Theresa “Tess” Kleinhaus

Attorney

Tess is an attorney at the EP and a partner at the civil rights law firm Loevy & Loevy. Tess graduated from DePaul University College of Law in 2010 magna cum laude. Since law school, Tess has focused her practice on criminal defense, civil rights, and post-conviction work. Tess joined the Exoneration Project in 2020.

Karl Leonard

Attorney and Lecturer in Law

Karl is a Staff Attorney at the Exoneration Project and a Lecturer in Law in our clinic at the University of Chicago Law School. Karl participated in the Exoneration Project clinic as a law student. Prior to joining the Exoneration Project as a Staff Attorney, Karl was an associate in Winston & Strawn’s litigation group. His pro bono activities included the representation of wrongfully-convicted individuals and defending clients in federal criminal matters.

Debra Loevy

Attorney and Executive Director

Debra is an attorney and the Executive Director at the EP and a partner at the civil rights law firm Loevy & Loevy. Debra 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 as a criminal defender for the State of Vermont and as an assistant appellate defender for the State of Illinois before joining Loevy & Loevy and the Exoneration Project in 2008.

Amelia Maxfield

Attorney

Amelia joined the Exoneration Project in 2024 from the Pennsylvania Innocence Project, where she spent six years representing wrongly convicted individuals. Amelia was also a public defender in the Montgomery County office of the Maryland Office of the Public Defender, and Post-Conviction Counsel at the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. She graduated cum laude from the University of Wisconsin Law School in 2015. 

Lauren Myerscough-Mueller

Attorney and Lecturer in Law

Lauren joined the Exoneration Project as an attorney in May 2019. Lauren came to the EP with over three years of experience representing the wrongfully convicted at the Illinois Innocence Project. Prior to her innocence work, Lauren practiced as a criminal defense attorney in the Chicago area, both as a private attorney and a public defender. She graduated from the Northwestern University School of Law, where she participated in several clinics and interned for the Cook County Public Defender Homicide Task Force for two years. Lauren is an EP Lecturer in Law, teaching at the University of Chicago Law School’s exoneration clinic.

David B. Owens

Attorney

David is an attorney at the EP, a partner at the civil rights law firm Loevy & Loevy, and an Assistant Professor at University of Washington Law School. David 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 joined the Exoneration Project in 2012.

Bhavana Penmetsa

Project Manager

Bhavana joined the EP as Project Manager in July 2022. Prior to joining the EP she worked as a Fulbright Scholar English Teaching Assistant in Spain, where she led critical writing classes and workshops at the University of Málaga. Bhavana graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a B.A. in Cognitive Science in 2021.

Shameesha Pryor

Paralegal

Shameesha joined the Exoneration Project as a paralegal in May 2022. She attended Connecticut College as a Posse Foundation recipient and became one of the pioneers of their Africana Studies major department, serving as the president of the student advisory board. After completing three years in the field bringing the needs of community members to the forefront with policymakers, she received a certificate in Community Action and Public Policy. Previously Shameesha worked as Court Appointed Special Advocate aiding children of abuse and neglect in our foster care system. She is a 3 year AmeriCorps alum serving with City Year Chicago and as a Recruitment and Cohort Liaison Leader with Legal Aid Chicago. Shameesha comes to us with a history in legal services and believes in the power of serving for the greater good.

Thommy Purnell

Case Manager

Thommy L. Purnell Jr. is the Exoneration Project’s Case Manager and an essential member of the litigation team. As an exoneree himself, Thommy is uniquely situated to assist our clients in overcoming the many barriers they face when navigating their cases and when re-entering society. Impassioned by his own fight for freedom and justice, Thommy participated in the Cabrini Green Legal Aid Clinic, First Defense Legal Aid, and Amnesty International. Prior to joining the EP, Thommy spent over a decade as a paralegal, focusing his work on civil rights litigation. Thommy graduated from Roosevelt University with a Bachelors in Paralegal Studies and a minor in Psychology in 2004.

Megan Richardson

Attorney

Megan joined the Exoneration Project as an attorney in January 2022 after representing wrongfully convicted individuals at the Michigan Innocence Clinic for nearly four years. Prior to her innocence work, Megan practiced as a litigator for Weil, Gotshal & Manges in New York. She graduated from the University of Michigan Law School where she was awarded the Irving Stenn Jr. Award, which is presented to students who have demonstrated leadership and contributed through extracurricular activities to the well-being and strength of the Law School or the University. Prior to law school, Megan worked on federal policy matters in Washington D.C.

Amy Robinson Staples

Attorney

Amy is an attorney at the Exoneration Project and at Loevy & Loevy. Since graduating from the University of Kentucky College of Law in 2000, Amy has spent much of career representing the wrongfully accused and those whose constitutional rights have been violated. As an attorney and manager of the Kentucky Innocence Project, Amy was involved in the exoneration of multiple men and women and successfully obtained pardons and commutations for numerous individuals, including imprisoned victims of domestic violence. She joined the EP and Loevy & Loevy in 2017.

Fadya Salem

Attorney

Fadya is an attorney at the Exoneration Project. As a Chicago native, she graduated summa cum laude from DePaul University College of Law in 2017. After law school, she earned an L.L.M. in trial advocacy as an E. Barrett Prettyman Fellow at the Georgetown University Law Center. She worked as an assistant public defender at the Law Office of the Public Defender in Miami-Dade County for three years. Fadya joined the Exoneration Project in 2022.

Elliot Slosar

Attorney

Elliot is an attorney at the EP, a partner at the civil rights law firm Loevy & Loevy, an Adjunct Professor at University of Notre Dame Law School, and a founding member of the Notre Dame Law School Exoneration Justice Clinic (EJC). Elliot’s exoneration practice focuses on wrongful conviction cases in Illinois, Indiana, and Kentucky.  Elliot 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 DePaul University College of Law in 2013, Elliot began working full-time as an EP and Loevy & Loevy attorney.

Josh Tepfer

Attorney

Josh is an attorney at the EP and a partner at the civil rights law firm Loevy & Loevy. Josh 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

Attorney

Tara is an attorney at the Exoneration Project, and is admitted to practice in New York, Illinois and Connecticut, as well as numerous federal district and appellate courts across the country. She graduated with honors from the University of Chicago Law School in 2003 and clerked for the Honorable Elaine E. Bucklo in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. Tara was a founding member of the Exoneration Project in 2007.