News 11.08.10

Prosecutorial Misconduct Plagues Illinois

In a scathing op-ed this weekend, a former Illinois legal official takes on a county prosecutor for the extreme lengths he’s gone to keep defendants behind bars despite evidence of actual innocence.

Mary Robinson, the former administrator of the Illinois Attorney Registration & Disciplinary Commission, detailed several cases where chief felony prosecutor Michael Mermal didn’t fully consider the evidence, including that of exoneree Jerry Hobbs who spent five years in prison before DNA evidence exonerated him and two other men Mermal has tried to re-prosecute even after they were cleared by DNA evidence.

Jason Strong was convicted of murdering an unidentified woman in 1999 and sentenced to 46 years in prison, despite Strong saying he was coerced into confessing.

Mermel argued that Strong beat the unknown woman to death in a hotel room where they used drugs and drank together. Robinson writes that this scenario was concocted by a star witness who, Mermel admitted to the jury, was “truthfully challenged.” Six years after Strong’s conviction, police identified the victim as a developmentally disabled woman who was married to an institutionalized violent schizophrenic.  Her husband admitted to the murder. Regardless of the identification and confession, prosecutors failed to re-open the case. Robinson wrote:

Mermel has argued that taxpayers pay for convictions, not for “intellectual curiosity,” but he has it dead wrong.

. . .

Too many prosecutors seem robotically opposed to reassessing whether they charged the right culprit, regardless of new information pointing to innocence.

Robinson urges the Illinois Supreme Court to amend the Rules of Professional Conduct to underscore that the prosecution’s duty to seek justice can remain long after a conviction if new evidence of innocence is discovered.


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Read about government misconduct and wrongful convictions

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