No One Has Secured Exonerations Like Josh Tepfer

BuzzFeed profiles the Chicago attorney
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 22, 2023 3:55 PM CST
No One Has Secured Exonerations Like Josh Tepfer
   (Getty Images / grinvalds)

"He gave me life again," one man said of Josh Tepfer. Multiply the sentiment by at least 288. Writing for BuzzFeed News, Melissa Segura profiles the 47-year-old Chicago attorney, who has led the charge in securing the exonerations of 288 wrongfully convicted people and numbers "among the most prolific exoneration attorneys since anyone began keeping track." That first exoneration came in 2011, but it wasn't until 2015 that Tepfer ended up landing on the case that would change everything: that of Ben Baker, who was in 2006 sentenced to 18 years for drug possession. He claimed Ronald Watts, the sergeant who patrolled his public housing project, had planted the drugs on both himself and his wife, Clarissa Glenn. Glenn had filed complaints against Watts alleging corrupt and abusive practices, and the couple alleged Watts retaliated.

Worried about their children losing both parents, she took a plea deal but suffered the consequences. With a criminal record, she lost her job and her ability to live in public housing. Tepfer knew Watts had been convicted of extorting protection payments out of drug dealers and thought the couple's story tracked. He got Baker's conviction tossed, then Glenn's, which involved him helping to reverse an Illinois law that prevented people who never served time from trying to formally prove their innocence. He next grouped 18 cases tied to Watts and got them overturned at once; he ultimately helped free 183 people whose cases involved Watts. Then he did something even more incredible: secured a mass exoneration of men framed for murder by Chicago cop Reynaldo Guevara. (Read the full story for more on that.)

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