Johnnie Lee Savory was 14 years old when he went to prison for the murders of two teenagers – a crime he says he didn’t commit. Savory served 30 years – two-thirds of his life – in Illinois prisons before he was released on parole last year. Illinois courts have repeatedly denied Savory the right to DNA testing, and yesterday Savory was joined by hundreds of supporters in calling on Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich to order testing in the case. Signing letters to Gov. Blagojevich were five former U.S. Attorneys, two former White House chiefs of staff, Noam Chomsky, John Grisham, business and religious leaders and 30 people exonerated by DNA testing.
Savory, who is African-American, was convicted twice by all-white juries, and the second conviction rested partly on the testimony of three informants who testified that Savory had told them about committing the crime. Two of those three informants have recanted their testimony. Physical evidence from the crime scene – including the alleged murder weapon, hairs from the crime scene and fingernail scrapings from the victims – could be tested now for DNA that might identify the real perpetrator in the murders. Savory is represented by lawyers at the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law and at the Chicago law firm Jenner & Block.
In their letter to Gov. Blagojevich, the group wrote:
Mr. Savory’s efforts to have the biological evidence in the case tested through the courts have failed. Hence, you, in all likelihood, are Mr. Savory’s only hope.
You have the power to order the testing, and there is precedent for you to do so; in fact, in the case of Gary Dotson — the first DNA exoneration in Illinois — Governor James R. Thompson ordered the testing which eventually cleared Mr. Dotson of rape. The testing will not cost the state any money. Mr. Savory will shoulder the entire expense of the DNA testing.