New DNA test results prove that four Illinois men were convicted of a 1994 rape and murder they didn’t commit, according to legal papers filed this week by the Innocence Project and partner organizations. Although DNA testing prior to trial had excluded the four men, a recent database search of the DNA profile matched a man who was later convicted of a similar crime. The four men are seeking to be released from prison based on the new evidence.
Test results link Johnny Douglas to the rape and murder that sent the then-teenagers to prison for lengthy sentences, reported the Chicago Tribune.
The case is strikingly similar to another Chicago area case in which five men convicted of a 1991 murder are seeking to overturn their convictions based on DNA evidence that another man committed the crime. Teenagers when they were arrested, three of the men signed confessions to the crime that they now say were coerced.
The state’s attorney’s office has been skeptical of the new DNA evidence in both murders, according to the Tribune. Following the 1994 rape and murder, Douglas pled guilty to a similar murder of a female in 1997.. After he was released from prison, he was shot to death by a man who was acquitted based on his claim of self defense.
Terrill Swift and Michael Saunders are among the four men who were wrongfully convicted in 1994..
Joshua Tepfer, a lawyer at Northwestern University’s Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth who is representing Swift, said the DNA link to Douglas is crucial. Police and prosecutors would have investigated Douglas if they had known of the link early on, he said.
“We believe this is entirely exonerating and this man who has been tied to so many other cases is the one who alone committed this crime,” Tepfer said. “The DNA doesn’t lie in this case. … He’s a man who was preying on women.”
Tepfer added that the only thing tying Swift and Saunders to the crime were their confessions, which were marked by inconsistencies. There was no physical evidence linking them to the murder.
In the other case, all five defendants were also excluded by DNA testing from the beginning, and new tests reveal a connection to another rapists who is currently in prison on unrelated charges.
In both cases, the Innocence Project is working with the Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth (at Northwestern Law School), the Exoneration Project (at the University of Chicago Law School) and private attorneys.