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Northwestern Law School Goes to Bat for Kenosha Murder Defendant

Kenosha---The woman who allegedly killed her abusive ex-boyfriend on Independence Day of last year now has some high-powered legal help.

Jeffrey Urdangen is the director of the Center for Criminal Defense at the Pritzker School of Law at Northwestern University.

Urdangen signed on to represent 51 year-old Donna Matthews. She's charged with 1st Degree Intentional Homicide in the shooting death of 51 year-old Michael Gayan in his home. The shooting apparently occurred under the cover of noisy fireworks that were being shot off a short distance away at the city's lakefront.   

Matthews' brother, Derrick, is facing an identical charge for allegedly supplying the murder weapon. For trial purposes, the cases have been severed. 

In Kenosha court Friday morning, Urdangen appeared for the first time on Matthews' behalf for what amounted to a scheduling conference. Racine Attorney Pat Cafferty, who specializes in sticky criminal defenses, is co-counsel. At the start, the Matthews' had been represented by public defenders. 

Speaking to reporters afterward, Urdangen declined to indicate what specifically drew him to Matthews, saying only that his center is "very selective of the cases that we accept."   

Urdangen's Northwestern bio identifies him as someone who specializes in trial tactics, wrongful convictions and indigent defense.

In his conversation with reporters outside of court Friday, Urdangen declined to say who was financing Matthews' defense.  

In court, the judge scheduled another status hearing for June, giving the defense attorneys time to examine four terabytes of evidence that's been turned over by the prosecution. It's believed to include a large quantity of electronic messages and various online postings.

While no one has suggested that Gayan physically abused Matthews during their years-long on-again, off-again relationship, an examination of social media and various documents that are included in several court files suggest that Gayan stalked and harrassed Matthews to the extreme, both in-person and online.   

About a dozen supportive friends and relatives of the Matthews siblings were in court Friday.

Urdangen was part of the team that freed Juan Rivera. Rivera had been charged in Lake County, Il court with the rape and murder of a child in 1992. Despite having a seemingly "unimpeachable alibi," according to the law school's web site, Rivera was convicted three times. With the help of DNA analysis, Rivera was eventually cleared by an appellate court that said that no rational jury could've found proof of guilt beyond reasonable doubt.