Category Archives: Illinois

John Pecoraro

John Pecoraro was convicted of murdering Jimmy Ray Christian on December 6, 1982, and sentenced to death ( in 2011 Illinois abolished the death penalty, and sentences were commuted to life imprisonment ).

John was convicted on the basis of an unsigned confession, which he denies he made, and witnesses who may have had an incentive to lie.

According to a review in The Chicago Daily Law Bulletin (see below), the State did not disclose information about a third person who allegedly confessed to the killing, and failed to   disclose a promise of leniency it made to a witness, in exchange for cooperation.

Discussion

* The review ( source ) titled “When exculpatory evidence never makes it to defendant”

Reading the Illinois Supreme Court’s decision in People v. John Pecoraro, No.78457 (Feb.6), one gets the distinct impression that the defendant got more vengeance than justice in his litigation.

In Pecoraro, the high court found that the state’s failure to disclose information about a third person who allegedly confessed to the killing – a killing for which the defendant received the death penalty – did not constitute a violation of Brady v.Maryland, 373 U.S. 83,10 L.Ed.2d 215, 83 S.Ct.1194 (1963), and its progeny. The court also found that the state’s failure to disclose a promise of leniency it made to a witness, in exchange for cooperation, did not impair the defense – since the defense had discovered different helpful information on its own. The Supreme Court reasoned that because the defendant did not allege or prove that the witness had testified falsely at trial, no harm had been done.

To justify its ruling regarding the harmlessness of the failure to disclose the statement by the third party, who had admitted to committing the crime, the court discussed the admissibility of that third party’s statement under established rules of evidence. In doing so, the high court reviewed the several predicates for the admissibility of a hearsay statement by a third party who admits to committing a crime, as set forth in Chambers v.Mississippi, 410 U.S.284,35 L.Ed.2d297,93 S.Ct.1038 (1973), and the court determined that the statement would have been inadmissible hearsay – thus not causing harmful error.

In regard to the state’s failure to disclose its promise of leniency to the cooperating witness, the court reasoned that no harm had been done since that information would have been of little help to the defense in light of all the other impeachment evidence the defense had acquired on its own. The court thus found that the state’s failure to disclose the additional impeachment material was harmless to the defendant’s case.

With all due respect for our Supreme Court, it appears this ruling either shows a callous indifference to procedural due process and the right to counsel or lack of common sense. Surely our state’s highest court knows that a defense attorney’s efforts are not limited to the four corners of the discovery information received from the state.

If the state discloses the name of a witness who claims to have committed the crime for which one’s client stands accused, a competent defense attorney would usually hire an investigator and try to obtain admissible evidence showing that the declarant – not the accused – committed the crime in question. Furthermore, an effective defense team might be able to convince the declarant to testify – in which case there would be no hearsay problem. But if the state is allowed to hide exculpatory information from the defense, investigation opportunities can be destroyed before they can ever begin. In essence, the state would be able to deny an accused the assistance of counsel by simply hiding exculpatory material.

Note that in U.S. v. Bagley, 473 U.S.667 (1985), the U.S. Supreme Court held that, regardless of whether information is requested by the accused, favourable evidence is material, and constitutional error results from its suppression by the government if suppression adversely affects an outcome.

With regard to the state’s failure to disclose the deal it had with one of its witnesses, and the Pecoraro court’s finding that the lack of disclosure was harmless in light of other impeachment information, how would the court have ruled had a defendant asked that the state not be allowed to introduce cumulative evidence?

For instance, if this defendant had been willing to stipulate to the cause of death in his murder case, would the court have barred the state from offering gory autopsy photos? Probably not.

The Supreme Court frequently has ruled that a party trying to prove a point has the right to present all of its evidence – including gory autopsy photos. People v. LeMay, 35Ill.2d 208, 220 N.E.2d 194 (1966). In the instant case, the defendant was trying to prove that a key witness for the state was not credible. The defense should have been allowed to present all of the evidence it had on the credibility issue – including any deals the witness had with the state.

 

 

 

John N. Prante

John N. Prante was sentenced in 1983 to 75 years in prison for the June 20, 1978 murder of Karla L. Brown, in the city of Wood River, Illinois. Prante is held in the Pinckneyville Correctional Center and listed as eligible for parole in 2019, and for release in 2022.

There were no witnesses to Brown’s death, the only physical evidence against Prant was disputed bite-mark testimony, a dentist testified that less than 1 percent of people have teeth that could have left the mark.

Two prints on a coffee carafe that authorities said the killer clearly had touched did not match Prante.

An attempt to get a judge to order a DNA test for blood on a couch cushion in Brown’s basement was rejected in 1993 as coming too late in the appeals process. Illinois later passed a law to accommodate post-conviction forensic testing.

In January 2017, in response to news that attorneys from the Exoneration Project and the Innocence Project were filing for DNA tests to be conducted, and for the unidentified prints to be checked against a National database, Don W. Weber, the former prosecutor, called efforts on Prante’s behalf “intellectual malpractice”, writing “I already convinced 12 people beyond a reasonable doubt and feel no obligation to respond to a bunch of misguided liberal do-gooders who think every investigation is like a TV reality show”.

Source: Bite mark on Metro East woman slain in 1978 pointed to her killer. Or did it? St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 3, 2017

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Charles Johnson and Larod Styles

In July 2016, Cook County Judge Domenica A. Stephenson vacated the murder convictions of Charles Johnson, 39, and Larod Styles, 36, who, as teenagers, received life sentences in the December 1995 deaths of Yousef Ali and Khalid Ibrahim. Both men were fatally shot during a robbery at Elegant Auto Sales at 75th and Western.

After eight years of legal wrangling, which included an appellate court decision in their favor, attorneys representing the men said the day would not be possible if Illinois weren’t the only state in the nation to allow post-conviction fingerprint testing for defendants.

Matching fingerprints were found on a car at the used car lot and on the adhesive side of a price sticker that was torn off of one of two cars that was stolen from the lot, said defense attorney Steven Drizin, of Northwestern University’s Center On Wrongful Convictions.

The same prints were also found on the stolen cars themselves — which were abandoned about five miles from the crime scene. And the kicker, defense attorneys claim, is the fact that the fingerprints, when run through a law enforcement data base that was not available to detectives at the time of the original investigation, returned a match: a man with a lengthy criminal record who lives a short walk from where the stolen cars were found. According to a source, the man has since been interviewed by investigators.

“We are here today because we were able to use that database to not only exclude our clients . . . but to match those fingerprints to one person in particular who has nothing to do with our clients,” said Drizin, who discounted confessions the men gave to police.

In September 2016, Charles Johnson was freed on $50,000 bond, Styles was unable to post bond. Cook County prosecutors said they will retry both Johnson and Styles.

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February 15, 2017 Charges Dropped

Patrick Pursley

Patrick Pursley was convicted of a 1993 murder, based on unreliable key witness testimony, jailhouse informants, and faulty forensic science.

At trial, the State’s expert concluded that the bullets and cartridges recovered from the crime scene were fired from a gun linked to Pursley “to the exclusion of all other firearms.” However the State’s expert has now admitted that he was wrong, and a defense expert has found that neither the cartridges nor the bullets recovered from the crime came from the gun linked to Pursley. On April 19, 2016 Pursley was granted an evidentiary hearing.

Sources:

http://www.law.northwestern.edu/legalclinic/wrongfulconvictions/exonerations/waiting-for-justice/

http://www.jiwc.org/our-cases/patrick-pursley/

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News

March 3, 2017 New trial granted

 

 

Arturo Reyes and Gabriel Solache

Imprisoned since 2000, Arturo Reyes and Gabriel Solache are serving life sentences stemming from a bizarre case in which a couple was murdered and their two young children abducted. Reyes and Solache were arrested when they brought the children to a police station after learning their identities from a news broadcast. They were held for two days, one arm handcuffed to a wall.

Their housemate, Adriana Mejia, pled guilty to the crimes (she’s also serving a life sentence) after the victims’ blood was found on her shoes, and under questioning from Guevara she implicated Reyes, who then named Solache as an accomplice.

No physical evidence linked Reyes or Solache to the crime.

Both Reyes and Solache testified at their trial that they confessed only after sustained beatings by Guevara. Reyes said the detective would slap him every time he didn’t like an answer Reyes gave; Solache said beatings to his head caused him to lose his hearing in one ear. In a pretrial hearing, Mejia testified that she saw Guevara slap Solache; Guevara denied any physical abuse took place.

In 2003 the two men filed post-conviction petitions which were dismissed by the trial judge, but in 2006 an appeals court reversed that decision, ruling that new evidence of a pattern of abuse by Guevera added credibility to their claims of coerced confessions.

An amended petition filed in 2008 on Solache’s behalf by Northwestern’s Center on Wrongful Convictions laid out dozens of cases of misconduct by Guevara that had come to light in the intervening years, including a distinct pattern of manipulating witnesses and coercing confessions to win convictions in murder cases where no physical evidence existed.  The state moved to dismiss the petition, and another round of legal wrangling took place.

Finally in February 2013 an evidentiary hearing began (it stretched over two years) on their petition for post-conviction relief.  The defense presented witnesses and testimony from other cases spelling out 20 instances of Guevara’s misconduct, including the testimony of a retired detective who said he told his supervisor that Guevara had manipulated a photo array.  A murder charge in that case was subsequently dropped.

Guevara was called to the stand but refused to testify, taking the Fifth Amendment dozens of times.  That’s a problem, as Circuit Court Judge James M. Obbish noted in his June 29 ruling, since it left every credible allegation against him unrebutted.

Source

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Kevin Baily

In 1989, two Chicago teenagers were wrongly accused and arrested for a murder they did not commit.

Corey Batchelor and Kevin Bailey were brought in to the notorious Area 2 police station and brutally interrogated by officers who had previously served under the now disgraced commander, Jon Burge. Corey was interrogated for 27 hours straight until he made a false confession. Kevin was then interrogated for 12 hours straight until he did the same. As someone sitting in the comfort of a free world, a false confession may sound absolutely preposterous, but Chicago is now being called the false confession capital of the world for good reason.

In spite of the stark reality that not one single shred of physical evidence or one single eyewitness linked Corey or Kevin to the murder of Lula Mae Woods, they were both convicted solely on the strength of their false confession — in spite of the reality that even their individual confessions greatly contradicted one another.

After serving 26 years in prison, Corey Batchelor, who entered as a 19-year-old and came out of prison as a 45-year-old man, is now free. Kevin Bailey, who was given an 80-year-sentence, is still behind bars.

Now, though, with the support of The Innocence Project, the Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth, the Exoneration Project, and the People’s Law Office, crucial DNA evidence from the crime scene has been tested for the very first time.

A bloody towel that the actual murderer used on the scene and a hat that was mistakenly left behind and did not belong to the victim or her family, each were tested and found to have hair on them from one person.

That person was not the victim, Corey, or Kevin. Not only that, but the stolen person and items from her purse were each found to have DNA from men on them. Testing confirmed that both Corey and Kevin are excluded from any possible matches on those items as well.

Lawyers for both men are now asking the courts for expedited hearings to finally free Kevin Bailey from prison and for both men to clear their names.

Source

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Jack McCullough

Jack (John) McCullough was falsely accused of child murder over fifty years after the alleged event.

Jack was accused as a late teen over fifty years ago. He was immediately able to provide a complete alibi unequivocally corroborated by army recruiting officers and timed phone records placing him scores of miles from the scene of the crime.

Jack comes from a highly dysfunctional family. He shortly afterward he moved away and changed his name. But nearly fifty years later his semi-crazed half-sisters (you have to read these women’s communications to believe them) charged that their mother had told them on her deathbed that the alibi was faked, they also made numerous charges of incest and other sexual abuses against Jack, their father and many others.

Jack elected to be tried before a judge on the incest charges and she, having heard the sisters at length, quickly acquitted him on all counts. Being dependent upon a public defender and having won his first round hands down Jack elected to have another judge hear his already discredited half-sisters on the murder counts.

The State’s case depended on hearsay on top of hearsay.To back it up they produced three stoolies who swore Jack had confessed to them in the last several days that he killed the girl in three different ways in two different places.

It also brought in a sixty odd year old woman who suddenly claimed to have identify Jack as the killer. Though she knew the family well, she had failed to identify Jack at the time of the murder but fifty years later (after his picture had been all over the papers) had a fresh epiphany that he was the murderer.

As the numerous alibi witnesses were now dead or unlocatable, the defense attempted to introduce the signed and dated federal files immediately after the crime and including records of the precisely timed phone calls. However the Judge, a political hack who had never tried a murder case before, ruled that the extensive federal government records were hearsay and therefore inadmissable.

Instead he immediately convicted on the hearsay offered by the Weird Sisters and the stoolies.

On October 11, 2015 a new and better informed public defender armed with much new evidence filed an appeal on Jack’s behalf.

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News April 15, 2016 Man Wrongly Convicted in 1957 Illinois Murder Is Released

Innnocence Project Report April 27, 2016

Christopher Coleman

On May 5, 2009 at 5.43am, Christopher Coleman left his comfortable suburban house in Waterloo, Illinois to go to the gym.

After his workout he said he called home and was worried when no-one answered, so he rang a neighbor, police officer Justin Barlow, to check on his family.

At trial, Officer Jason Donjon, who entered the house with Mr Barlow, testified that they found the house was covered in threatening messages daubed in red paint.

The graffiti read: ‘I am watching’, ‘punished’ and ‘u have paid’.

Then they discovered the bodies of Mrs Coleman and her two sons, killed in separate bedrooms.

Mrs Coleman was left naked in bed, strangled with a ligature. Her eldest son, Garett, was curled up in bed with spray paint on his sheets.

Finally the youngest, Gavin, was seen lying face down with his limbs dangling either side of the bed and swear words daubed on his covers.

According to police computer experts, Coleman’s own laptop, accessed by his own password, was the source of anonymous profane threats against his family that Coleman had reported to police as early as November 2008.

Coroners took the temperature of Sheri Coleman’s liver at 11 a.m. and recorded 90.4 degrees. Then it was taken again at the funeral home at 1:17 p.m. and was recorded as 87.4 degrees.

Defense attorney Jim Stern said that was a rate of 1.5 degrees an hour, which he calculated put Sheri Coleman’s time of death after 5:30 a.m., while her husband was at the gym.

Dr Michael Baden said Stern got it wrong, because the body does not start losing heat for three to four hours after death.

Coleman was convicted of the murders in 2011.

News report on trial, April 27, 2011

However it is now believed that the murders were the work of serial killer Edward Wayne Edwards.

It’s probably the last murder committed by Edwards, in fact it was after his family tipped off the police in March 2009, and just weeks before his DNA was taken for testing in June 2009, prior to his arrest on 30 July 2009.

See the timeline here for the context of the murder :https://ededwardsserialkiller.wordpress.com/timeline/#2000

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News

September, 2015: John Cameron has written a 65-page PDF document that explains the coded messages Edward Wayne Edwards left in red paint on the walls.

Matt Sopron

Matt Sopron was implicated in a double murder nine months after the crime by the true perpetrators who were looking to avoid a death sentence.

There was no physical evidence linking him to the crime, and the witnesses implicating him all told different stories. Defense witnesses contradicted their testimony.

After trial, two prosecution witnesses recanted and related how they were coerced into giving false evidence, transcripts are available here.

Matt was asleep at home when the crime took place, and he had no knowledge of it.

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Melissa Calusinski

This young lady confessed after 6 hours of grueling questioning and even apologized for getting upset with the investigators. At the end of the 6 hours, she wanted to know when she could go home and see her parents and her puppy.

With an IQ of approx 80, Melissa didn’t understand what was happening to her.

She did not harm the child at the day care. The child died from an old injury.

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Blaming Melissa : 48 hours, Sunday  July 19, 2015 ( Video + Transcript )

News

Wins Court Victory 21st September, 2015 “There were tears from Calusinski’s family after a judge ruled Lake County prosecutors need to answer new evidence that could overturn her murder conviction.”

Benny Lopez

Featured case #49 in Chicago, Illinois

Benny was wrongly accused and convicted for an August 1993 murder and attempted murder.

Prior to Benny’s incarceration in 1993, two suspects were arrested who had been positively identified as the two shooters in this case, however, in exchanged for a statement made by one of these suspects, alleging Benny had went to his home and confessed his involvement, the suspect was released without any charges pending.

This same suspect would later testify that he was forced into signing this false statement against Benny.

Benny was arrested, then mentally and physically tortured when he was being interrogated; although it was documented in the police reports and throughout Benny’s trial, that Benny had begged to speak to an attorney and wished not to speak to these detectives-his requests went unanswered. These same detectives claimed that after Benny requested his lawyer, that he then made and oral confession stating he was not the shooter but that he was involved in the fight with the victims.

During Benny’s trial, two of the prosecutions own witnesses, Chicago Police Officers, admitted under cross examination that Benny was not responsible for this crime and testified their reports indicated two other suspects were the shooters in this case.

Since Benny’s trial and conviction, he has obtained seral affidavits from witnesses now coming forward reiterating Benny was not responsible for his crime. He also received an affidavit/confession from the actual shooter stating he was responsible, not Benny.

Prior to this case, on August 23, 1992, Benny was a victim of police misconduct from this same district. He was falsely accused and arrested for a gun charge where these detectives planted a weapon on him. This charge was immediately dismissed after the judge discovered deception in these detectives’ testimonies.

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John Horton

Featured Case #41: John Horton was wrongly convicted of murder in 1995. His cousin subsequently confessed to the crime. The case is supported by the Center of Wrongful Convictions of Youth at Northwestern University School of Law.

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12 October 2016 : New trial granted

The Court ruled that John was entitled to a new trial because prosecutors had violated his due process rights by not disclosing exculpatory evidence, although a special concurrence penned by one of the Justices added that this case was riddled with “outrageous errors and missteps” and that John has “significant” evidence of actual innocence.

Ruling | News Report

10 February 2016 : Released on Bond.  Judge Joseph G. McGraw set his bond at $50,000.

 

Mario Casciaro

Mario Casciaro was convicted based only on the testimony of a criminal who received immunity in exchange for his testimony against Casciaro. Mario had alibi witnesses and actual evidence pointed to another criminal. The witness has now admitted he lied after being coached by the prosecutor. Fortunately, Casciaro now has Kathleen Zellner on his side. She found evidence the prosecution concealed which has now magically ‘disappeared’.

Please refer to this article from October 3rd 2014 for information.

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Conviction overturned 17 September 2015

Leaves prison 23 September 2015 ABC News

In an exclusive interview with ABC News’ “20/20” last October, Lamb recanted his testimony, saying he lied to prosecutors and lied under oath.

“All of it was false. Every single thing … The state’s attorney set it up,” Lamb told “20/20.” “Mario is in there for 26 years for something he didn’t do.”

Jamie Snow

In 2001, Jamie Snow was wrongfully convicted for the 1991 murder of a gas station attendant during an apparent armed robbery at the Clark Super 100 Station located at 802 E. Empire St. in Bloomington, Illinois. Jamie was home with his family on the other side of town when the crime occurred. He is currently being represented by the University of Chicago’s Exoneration Project. This will be his 15th year residing in Stateville Prison in Joliet, Illinois.

This violent and senseless crime occurred in Bloomington, Illinois on Easter Sunday 1991. The murderer walked away with approximately $60, as Jamie Snow ate dinner with his children. The tragedy was compounded when, after several years without a clear suspect, Jamie Snow was arrested and improperly charged by police and prosecutors willing to convict him by any means necessary, even after passing a polygraph exam.

The conviction was only possible using testimony of unreliable witnesses, many who had their own legal issues, people easily coerced into accepting deals, some more than willing to give false testimony. Jailhouse informants claimed that Snow “confessed” to them while awaiting trial. Many of which have now recanted their testimonies in sworn affidavits. There has never been any physical evidence tying Jamie Snow to this case. Information has also come forward that at least one jury member knew Jamie Snow and did not inform the court of same.

Jamie has spent the last 14 years in prison fighting to present new evidence demonstrating his innocence. The original trial violated his constitutional rights in several ways, many which stem from a lack of representation by his public defender, who presented little to no defense. Not surprisingly, this attorney has since been disbarred, yet Jamie’s conviction remains. With an over-zealous prosecution and no proper defense, Snow had no more chance at trial than William Little did when faced with an armed gunman.

The Prosecution relied on one “star witness” who provided critical eye-witness identification. Yet this same witness was UNABLE to identify Snow in photo books or during a line-up which occurred soon after the crime. It wasn’t until 1999, 8 years later and AFTER Snow’s arrest, that the “star witness” identified Snow upon seeing his photograph in a local newspaper. Only at the trial, 10 years after the fact, did the “star witness” speak of Snow’s “eyes” being “unforgettable,” yet he had seen Jamie in numerous close up photos and the in person line-up not long after the incident occurred.

Approximately 4 years after conviction police radio tapes disclosed to Snow that “star witness” could NOT have seen what he testified to seeing.

Jamie has always maintained his innocence, and continues to do so.

Jamie Snow is being represented by Tara Thompson of the University of Chicago’s Exoneration Project.

Case description copied from http://blog.freejamiesnow.com/

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Notes: McClean County, Illinois

News

July 30, 2015 : Nationally recognized defense attorney takes on the Jamie Snow case