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Prosecutors Appealing New Trial For Murder Convict

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Just days ago, a man who has been behind bars for 17 years learned his chance at freedom is in limbo.

The Exoneration Project at the University of Chicago Law School has been working to free Rodell Sanders. CBS 2's Suzanne Le Mignot reports on the recent steps the project has taken to gain Sanders freedom.

"I'm perishing in jail for a crime that I didn't commit," Sanders said in a phone interview from Cook County Jail on Friday.

Seventeen years ago, Sanders was convicted of murder, attempted murder and armed robbery.

"Now after all these years, the truth is finally coming out," Sanders said.

Sanders contacted The Exoneration Project at the University of Chicago Law School and the group's attorneys and U of C law students uncovered new evidence.

The prosecution paid witnesses thousands of dollars, and cut the snitch in Sanders' case an undisclosed deal for his own criminal case, in exchange for his testimony against Sanders.

The Exoneration Project said the snitch recanted his statements before Sanders' trial and admitted he was the actual perpetrator, but Sanders' trial attorney never presented that evidence to the jury.

"Once they stepped in, everything changed for me from that point on," Sanders said. "The Exoneration Project won me a new trial."

A Cook County judge overturned Sanders' conviction on Jan. 14, but prosecutors have appealed the ruling to the Illinois Appellate Court.

"Therefore I'm now trapped because this could be a long and lengthy appeals process. It could go on two, it could go on three years," Sanders said.

Now, The Exoneration Project has filed a motion to have Sanders bond reduced, so he can be free while the appeal takes place.

"All it takes is a few committed people to free an innocent person from prison and that's what we have here at The Exoneration Project," attorney Russell Ainsworth said.

Each week, The Exoneration Project receives more than 30 letters.

"My favorite part of law school has been in this room, working on the cases," U of C law student Megan Leach said.

Among those freed and given help are Eric Caine and Larry Gillard, who both cleared their names with the help of The Exoneration Project.

"He should hang in there and keep the faith," Gillard said of Sanders' plight. "They're going to do their best for him and they ain't going to give up."

"I know in my heart that one day I will walk out of here, free, exonerated," Sanders said.

He said the thing he misses the most is his family. When he was convicted, his daughter was born just months later. He was only able to hold her once in his arms. That was 16 years ago.

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