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People Top 5
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- March 25, 2013
- Vol. 79
- No. 12
They Were All Wrongly Convicted: They Were All Freed with This Man's Help
For Three Decades, Jim Mccloskey and His Investigators Have Fought to Exonerate the Falsely Accused, Freeing 50 and Counting ...
That insatiable belief that the truth will set the innocent free has been a driving force for McCloskey, 70, a self-taught sleuth whose team recently helped release its 50th inmate since his first case in 1980. Run solely on donations (investigations can cost a half million dollars), Centurion's staff of seven, none of whom have police training, can spend years re-interviewing witnesses, poring over documents and tracking down sources police never talked to. "Centurion is a ray of hope for the innocent languishing behind bars," says Steven Drizin, a Northwestern University law professor. "They're a lifeline."
For Clarence Brandley, a custodian accused of raping and killing a Texas high school student, McCloskey was a life-saver: He helped stop the 1987 execution of Brandley just eight days before his lethal injection. "He's an angel," says Brandley, who walked off death row three years later with McCloskey behind him. "The guards and inmates were cheering," he recalls. "They shut the prison down for me."
Raised in suburban Philadelphia, McCloskey, a lifelong bachelor, left a lucrative corporate executive job at age 37 for Princeton Theological Seminary in search of purpose. During his second year he served as a student chaplain at the New Jersey State Prison, where he met Jorge De Los Santos, a heroin addict accused of murder. "He challenged me to free him," says McCloskey, who succeeded three years later. "Jorge gave me a mission in life."
Although the inmates they've helped free have collectively served 972 years, most have not been compensated, and only one real killer has been brought to justice. "There's a lot of heartache in this work," says McCloskey, "but to have a mother thank us for bringing her son or daughter home, that's all the reward we need."
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