- Associated Press - Sunday, March 27, 2016

CHICAGO (AP) - Inmates in Illinois and their supporters are getting creative in their bids to draw attention to their cases.

A wooden sign along the Stevenson Expressway reads “Free Matt Sopron,” while backers of another inmate in prison for a 1991 killing and armed robbery in Bloomington have passed out “Free Jamie Snow” wristbands to draw attention to efforts to get DNA testing to help show he’s innocent. Supporters of John Horton of Rockford use social media to tell about efforts to undo his conviction.

Defense attorney Allan Ackerman, who has represented Sopron since 1998, believes the public appeals make a difference.

“The effort provides the public with a visual approach to an often broken system in Cook County and elsewhere,” he told the Chicago Tribune (https://trib.in/1pAQbcO ).

Sopron, now 42, was one of six men convicted in the 1995 killing of two 13-year-old girls on Chicago’s southwest side. Prosecutors said gang members targeting rivals mistakenly shot the girls, and Sopron was accused of ordering the shooting.

Documents filed in his appeals contend many witnesses recanted testimony, but the Illinois Appellate Court has rejected his appeals, saying the recantations weren’t credible. The state’s attorney’s office’s Conviction Integrity Unit told Ackerman almost four years ago that the case was being reviewed, but its status is unclear.

Sopron’s mother organized efforts to draw attention to his case with the lack of news from prosecutors. The family has set up a website and an online petition, and Sopron thought of the expressway sign. A cousin, Lou Plucinski, put it up.

“We hope people will see it and say, ‘Hey, I might be able to help,’” Plucinski said.

Snow’s supporters have rallied in front of the McLean County Courthouse, and for the past five years have gathered in a park to write postcards to reporters. His case remains active with a motion seeking DNA testing of evidence in a county court and a conviction appeal in federal court.

“It’s important for people who are innocent to be able to tell the public what’s going on in their case,” said Tara Thompson, a lawyer who represents Snow. “It’s important for their supporters who want to make sure the cases aren’t forgotten to know that effort helps.”

Horton was convicted in 1995 of a killing and robbery at a Rockford McDonald’s. His fiancee posts on social media and has built a website, and hopes his claims of innocence will bring results in court.

“It’s difficult to get a mass following for these things,” said Horton’s lawyer, Joshua Tepfer of the Exoneration Project. “But these are people who are trying to advocate for people they love.”

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