SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WAND) - The Illinois Innocence Project works to exonerate the wrongfully convicted.
The Chicago Legal Director for the organization, Lauren Kaeseberg, said there's thousands of cases waiting to be reviewed.
"There are thousands of innocent people in prison in Illinois, without a doubt," Kaeseberg said.
One of those was the case of Nathaniel Onsurd. In February of 2007, Onsurd's four-month-old son Dax was born 10 weeks premature.
"[Dax] suffered from some serious medical complications and conditions," Kaeseberg said.
In of May of 2007, Dax became unresponsive while in his father's care.
"Very tragically, [Dax] died as a result of those medical conditions when he was just four months old," Kaeseberg said.
Initially, Kaeseberg said everyone who looked at Dax's medical records suspected there was no foul play in his death.
"There was an autopsy conducted where there was a finding made where [the death] was natural causes," Kaeseberg said.
According to Kaeseberg, police were able to coerce a false confession from Onsurd.
"Under their pressure, [Onsurd] said that maybe he had sat Dax down too hard, and that Dax may have hit his head on the couch when he did that," Kaeseberg said. "That was a false confession. We know false confessions happen all the time."
The National Registry of Exoneration's shows false confessions have played a role in the wrongful conviction of 96 people in Illinois. That's nearly 30 percent of Illinois' 331 exonerations since 1989.
"It seems counter-intuitive for people to think an innocent person would confess to something they didn't do, but when you break it down, there is extreme psychological coercion that takes place," Kaeseberg said. "If you look at Nate's case specifically, he had just lost his four-month-old baby."
Because of the false confession, Kaeseberg said Onsurd was advised by his defense attorney to take a guilty plea.
"He actually tried to withdraw that guilty plea and was not allowed to by the court," Kaeseberg said. "He was sentenced to 60 years in prison."
Onsurd was just 20 years old when he was sent to the Menard County Correctional Center. Years later, the Innocence Project would take on his case.
"When the case came across our desk, it really had the hallmarks of a case where there was really no crime to begin with," Kaeseberg said.
After doing some digging, Kaeseberg said officials found newly-discovered evidence that proves Onsurd was not responsible for the death of his infant son.
"Upon an investigation done by the Rock Island State's Attorney's Office, they uncovered the fact that the original prosecutor in Nate's case had actually sat on exculpatory documents and records that were never disclosed to Nate or his attorneys, prior to him taking this guilty plea," Kaeseberg said.
After spending 13 years in prison, Onsurd is now 33 and a free man.
"He wouldn't have completed his sentence until the year 2070," Kaeseberg said. "To be released in 2020, I think it's fair to say it saved his life."
Onsurd is the fifteenth person the Illinois Innocence Project has helped to be released or exonerated.