If Illinois defendants never told jury of their own abuse, now a second chance
Injustice Watch by Olivia Stovicek
Willette Benford spent 24 years in prison, convicted of murder after she ran over Patricia Phillips in 1995.
Benford said the crime occurred as she fled the anger of her girlfriend, whom she contended had abused her for most of the previous two years. But based on her trial attorney’s advice that it might prejudice the jurors, the defense never presented evidence of the many months of domestic violence she experienced.
“Back then, homophobia was more prevalent than it is now,” Benford said in a recent interview. “He said there were certain things that we shouldn’t talk about. So we didn’t talk about it.”
But on Feb. 6, Benford walked out of prison, decades shaved from her 50-year sentence, the first person granted a new sentencing hearing following a recent change in Illinois law that establishes domestic violence as a mitigating factor to be considered in sentencing.
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