News 01.17.12

Four Chicago Men Exonerated of 1994 Murder and Rape by New DNA Evidence Linking the Crime to a Convicted Murderer




State’s Attorney’s Office Dismisses Indictment Following Ruling by Cook County Judge Overturning Their Convictions

 


Contact: 

Paul Cates, Innocence Project, 212-364-5346,

pcates@innocenceproject.org

Eva Nagao, UChicago Law School Exoneration Project, (773) 540-5608,


tthompson@law.uchicago.edu

Rob Warden, Center on Wrongful Convictions, 312 503-8576,

r-warden@law.northwestern.edu


 

(Chicago, IL; January 17, 2012) – Four Englewood men were exonerated today after the State’s Attorney’s Office announced that it was dismissing the indictments against the men for a 1994 murder and rape of a sex worker.  The decision not to prosecute the four men follows the November 16, 2011, ruling by Cook County Judge Paul Biebel overturning their convictions because of new DNA evidence implicating another man with a long history of murdering and assaulting sex workers.  Michael Saunders, Harold Richardson, Terrill Swift and Vincent Thames are represented by the Innocence Project, the Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth, the Exoneration Project of the University of Chicago Law School and the Valorem Law Group. 

 

“Tragically, today’s exonerations follow on the heels of the exonerations of four Dixmoor men and Juan Rivera in Lake County, all of which involved police induced false confessions of teenagers,” said Josh Tepfer of the Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth. “Let’s hope the damage these prosecutions have caused has finally forced the State’s Attorney’s Office to recognize that it can no longer ignore this problem.

Let’s also hope that the law enforcement will finally learn that

aggressive interrogation tactics used against children too often result in false confessions.”

 

“The only way to restore confidence in the criminal justice system is for the state to conduct a thorough independent audit of all Cook County convictions that relied on confessions of juveniles for serious crimes to determine how many other innocent men are languishing in prison,” said Peter Neufeld, Co-Director of the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Cardozo School of Law. “In all other situations like this where life, liberty and health are at stake, we expect government to step in to determine the extent of the damage, what whet wrong and how to fix it.  These tragic miscarriages of justice demand the same.”

 

Saunders (15), Richardson (16), Swift (17), Thames (18) and Jerry Fincher (18)


were charged with the November 1994 strangulation murder and rape of Nina Glover, a sex worker, in the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago.   In mid-March 1995, after all leads in the case had dried up, police claim that Fincher walked into the precinct to voluntarily provide information about Glover’s murder to help gain “some consideration” for a friend of his who was in custody on a drug charge.  According to the police, after two days of interrogation, Fincher confessed to the murder, also implicating Saunders, Richardson, Swift and Thames.  Police arrested and interrogated the other four, securing confessions, which were wildly inconsistent with each other.  Despite the fact that all five supposedly admitted to having sexual intercourse with the victim, pre-trial DNA testing on semen recovered from the victim matched an unknown male and excluded all five teenagers.  Rather than continue with the investigation to identify the source of the semen, however, the state went forward with the prosecution of the five young men.

 

The judge in Fincher’s case ruled that his statement was coerced and therefore inadmissible.  Since there was no other evidence linking Fincher to the crime, prosecutors were forced to dismiss the charges against him.  Saunders, Richardson and Swift were all convicted at trial based on the strength of their so-called confessions and were sentenced to at least 30 years in prison.  After seeing his three co-defendants lose at trial, Thames pled guilty and was sentenced to 30 years in prison.  

 

At the request of the defendants, the DNA that was recovered from the victim’s body was recently put through the CODIS database and hit Johnny Douglas.  Douglas, then 32, was present on November 7, 1994, at 7 a.m. when Glover’s naked body was recovered from the dumpster. Douglas lied to police, claiming he “knew nothing” about the murder.  Douglas was later convicted of the nearly identical 1997 strangulation murder of Gytonne Marsh, also a sex worker, and received a 20-year sentence.  He was also tried but found not guilty of the June 17, 1995, strangulation-murder of sex worker Elaine Martin, where once again his DNA matched the semen recovered from the victim.  During this trial, the State’s Attorney’s Office sought to introduce evidence that Douglas was responsible for at least five other violent physical assaults of sex workers between March 1993 and September 1997.   Douglas, who was known as “Maniac” in the neighborhood, was killed after he was released from prison. 

 

“The tragedy is that these four men were just kids when they were sent to prison for crimes they didn’t commit,” said Tara Thompson of the Exoneration Project of the University of Chicago Law School.  “They’ve lost some of the most formative years of their lives and will never be able to make up for the missed opportunities.”   

 

After trying unsuccessfully to persuade the State’s Attorney’s Office to consent to the defendants’ release and dismiss the indictments, lawyers for the defendants eventually had to file a motion to vacate the convictions, which was granted on November 16, 2011, on the strength of the DNA evidence.  The two defendants who were incarcerated were able to make bail set by the court and the case was adjourned for today for the State’s Attorney’s Office to determine whether or not to retry the case.  In court today, the State’s Attorney’s Office announced that it would not be retrying the case and dismissed all charges. 

 

“How many false confession cases are we going to have to see before the state decides to do something about this epidemic?” said Stuart Chanen a 

former prosecutor who now works on exoneration cases at the Valorem Law Group.  

“Not only did these men spend years behind bars for a crime they didn’t commit, but while they were locked up, the real perpetrator was out murdering and terrorizing other women.”

 

Saunders is represented by Neufeld and Staff Attorney Craig Cooley of the Innocence Project.  Richardson is represented by Thompson of the Exoneration Project of the University of Chicago Law School.  Swift is represented by Tepfer and Steven Drizin of the Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth. Thames is represented by Chanen and Hank Turner of the Valorem Law Group. 

 

A copy of the defendants’ motion to vacate the convictions is available at:


http://www.innocenceproject.org/docs/2011/Saunders_Amended_Motion_for_Relief_072511.pdf


.



The state’s response opposing relief is available at:


http://www.innocenceproject.org/docs/2011/Saunders_Peoples_Motion_to_Dismiss_091411.pdf



The defendants response to the state is available at



http://www.innocenceproject.org/docs/2011/Saunders_ Petitioner’s_Joint_Opp_to_State’s_Mtn_to_Dismiss_092811.pdf

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