By Allyson Chiu, Claire Hansen, Jun Tae “Walter” Ko, Samantha Max and Jamie Schmid
The Medill Justice Project
Updated: Aug. 25, 2017
Jennifer Del Prete filed suit today against the villages of Romeoville and Plainfield, Romeoville police and a medical expert, alleging they fabricated scientific findings and suppressed exculpatory evidence which led to her wrongful first-degree murder conviction.
According to the complaint, Del Prete, 46, is suing for compensatory damages, attorneys’ fees and costs, punitive damages and any other relief the court deems appropriate.
“Nothing can compensate for the tragedy we all went through, but I’m hoping that we can get some justice,” Del Prete said at a press conference today, fighting back tears. “… Although we can’t get our time back that we missed, I would just like to feel like I was acknowledged.”
Romeoville and Plainfield officials could not be reached for comment.
Del Prete was working at a day care in Romeoville, Illinois, when she was accused of violently shaking a 3 ½-month-old infant. The child died a year later and Del Prete was convicted of first-degree murder in 2005. She was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
In 2013, about eight years later, The Medill Justice Project obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request a letter from Kenneth Kroll, then a detective in Del Prete’s case, which revealed the forensic pathologist who performed the infant’s autopsy doubted whether the infant died from shaken-baby syndrome. Del Prete’s trial attorney, Chuck Bretz, was not notified of the letter. Bretz testified at a hearing in May last year that his defense strategy would have significantly changed had he known about Kroll’s letter.
“That letter was suppressed,” said Jon Loevy, one of Del Prete’s attorneys, at the press conference. “Her constitutional rights were violated, so now she’s bringing this civil lawsuit based on that violation.”
U.S. District Court Judge Matthew F. Kennelly released Del Prete on bond in 2014, saying no reasonable jury would have convicted her. By then she had already served nearly a decade of her 20-year sentence.
Since her release, Del Prete said she has continued to reconnect with her two children, Tia and Draven, and other members of her family. Having missed out on about a decade of life events, from weddings to graduations, Del Prete has struggled to adjust to life after prison.
“Things were nothing like they were when I left,” she said of her family. “We had to get to know each other again.”
Del Prete hopes her lawsuit will bring justice not only to her, but to others as well: “I want my case to be an example so I can help other people, because there are hundreds and hundreds, thousands of people that have the same nightmare that I have gone through.”
Correction: In our original story published Aug. 24, 2017, we reported U.S. District Court Judge Matthew F. Kennedy released Del Prete on bond in 2014. It was U.S. District Court Judge Matthew F. Kennelly. We regret the error.