By SAMANTHA SMYLIE
Eric Blackmon evolved from convicted felon to paralegal whose efforts led to his exoneration.
Blackmon discussed his journey at the Pozen Family Center for Human Rights, 5720 S Woodlawn Ave., as a part of its lunchtime series called “Human Rights in Practice.” The center invites human rights practitioners and community members working to end mass incarceration and police violence to share their work.
In 2004, Blackmon was convicted of killing Tony Cox. Two eyewitnesses testified that they saw him at the scene where Cox was killed; Blackmon later found out that the witnesses were coerced by police officers to pick him out of a lineup. After being convicted of first-degree murder, he was sentenced to life in prison.
Blackmon spent two years in Cook County Jail before he was transferred to Stateville Correctional Center, where he stayed for almost 15 years. While in prison, he earned his barber license; he took accounting and business classes and later became a paralegal.
“I came across this article in a Prison Legal News – a magazine that tells you about cases, mostly civil [cases],” Blackmon said. “Back in those years, you may have a sprinkling of a criminal case or two. I read across this little page, it was an ad, that said if you want to learn the law apply here. It was only like $59 a month. I thought, ‘I really do need to learn the law.’ So, I signed up and for $59 a month in 14 easy payments, I got a paralegal certificate.”
After becoming a paralegal, Blackmon was able to organize friends and family to help investigate his case. After investigating his case, he started to file appeals in an effort to overturn his conviction. Blackmon explained that the process was disheartening because he received a lot of denials before his case was accepted for an appeal hearing. Even though the process was difficult, in 2017 Blackmon won a new trial by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which is extremely rare. Cook Country prosecutors dropped murder charges against him.
Blackmon went to jail at 19 years old and came home at 37. In January of 2019, Blackmon was exonerated of all charges. Since being released from prison, Blackmon has been working as a paralegal for Christian Lawndale Legal Center, advocating for incarcerated people with lifelong sentences and trying to bridge the gap of time between him and his loved ones.