The Chief Public Defenders Office asked the legislature’s Appropriations Committee Tuesday to permanently fund the Connecticut Innocence Project, a program aimed at exonerating wrongfully convicted prisoners.

Attorney Susan Storey said at the moment the project, recently responsible for the exoneration of James Calvin Tillman, is staffed voluntarily by public defenders.

How much work is there to do?

She said there are currently 150 applications pending review.

Storey said the project has applied for an 18-month grant from the Department of Justice to continue its work, but asked the committee to consider the addition of four positions. She said it would cost $297,000 in 2008 and $306,000 in 2009 for the additional four positions that would be dedicated to the project.

Attorney Brian Carlow who worked on the Tillman case said one of the things the Department of Justice was looking for in its grant application was cooperation of state agencies, which, “Connecticut is lucky to have.”

He said as soon as they were able to locate the underwear with the seaman sample in Tillman’s case the State Department of Public Safety that runs the DNA testing lab was able to get it tested “in a matter of days.” He said finding the evidence in the 18-year rape case was the difficult part. “It was fortuitous it was even found,” he said.

Finding the time to work on Tillman’s case was a matter of priorities, Carlow said. But he said he would love for the legislature to establish funding for a dedicated unit to deal with these cases.

The grant application for the project is still pending and Sen. Martin Looney, D-New Haven, has introduced legislation to establish a permanent Innocence Project within the Public Defenders Office.

To read more about the Connecticut Innocence Project click here and to see Looney’s legislation click here.