A Cook County circuit court judge today vacated the convictions of four Illinois men of a 1994 rape and murder — six months after DNA test results pointed to their innocence and implicated the real perpetrator.
The judge set bail for Michael Saunders and Harold Richardson, who have both served 17 years—more than half of their lives – in prison for a crime they didn’t commit. Prosecutors must decide whether to dismiss the charges against them. Also cleared today are Terrill Swift, who is on parole, and Vincent Thames, who completed his sentence and was released recently.
Teenagers at the time, all men were interrogated without a family member or guardian present and were coerced into confessing to the crime. Earlier this year, DNA testing on semen recovered from the victim matched a man who was convicted of a nearly identical murder and whom the prosecution believes committed another murder and additional assaults with the same modus operandi.
The Cook County State’s Attorney has consistently opposed vacating the men’s convictions, arguing that the DNA match alone is not enough to prove innocence.
Mr. Swift, now 34, said his confession came out of fear and exhaustion. After being questioned for hours by police, he was told he could go home if he signed the confession.
“I was 17, I’d never been in any type of trouble like that,” Swift told a New York Times reporter. “I didn’t know the weight or the magnitude of what a confession could do. It cost me 17 years of my life.”