North Chicago
Victims of the State

10 Cases

 Cook County, IL

Haymarket Eight

May 4, 1886

Eight men were convicted of murder and conspiracy to commit murder in connection with the death of police officer Mathias J. Degan. On May 1, 1886 there were general strikes throughout the United States in support of an 8-hour workday. On May 3 there was a rally of striking workers at the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company plant in Chicago. This rally ended with police firing on the workers. Two workers died although some newspaper accounts reported six fatalities.
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 Cook County, IL

Joseph Briggs

Sept 12, 1904

Joseph Briggs was sentenced to death for the murder of wholesale cigar dealer Hans Peterson. The murder occurred during an armed robbery of Peterson's shop at 774 West Lake Street in Chicago. Two eyewitnesses, who failed to identify Briggs initially, identified him as the perpetrator in court. A third witness identified him a having been to the store the day before. This witness identified him at a police station, but only after asking a desk sergeant, “Which one is Briggs?” At trial, Briggs had several witnesses who testified that he had been in a saloon at the time the prosecution contended the crime occurred. In Dec. 1905, the Illinois Supreme Court overturned Briggs' conviction because the trial court refused to allow evidence that impeached the credibility of the prosecution witnesses. On retrial, Briggs was acquitted.  (CWC)  [12/05]

 Cook County, IL

Bill Heirens

June 1945 - Jan 1946

Bill Heirens, a 17-year-old University of Chicago student, pleaded guilty to three separate murders in exchange for three life sentences when it became apparent that he would not get a fair trial and could be executed within weeks. The victims were two adult women, and 6-year-old Suzanne Degnan, who was found dismembered. Heirens was a thief who was caught burglarizing a home in the neighborhood of the murders months after they occurred. No Miranda rights or appeals process then existed. Heirens withstood being tortured by police and said he could have withstood more, but he succumbed after the Chicago Tribune published a false story that gave a purported confession by Heirens. Heirens and his lawyers felt that that story, which was picked up by other newspapers, would hopelessly taint any jury pool. Heirens is still imprisoned after 63 years at age 80 in 2009.  Two books were written about the case, the pro-prosecution, Before I Kill More..., and the pro-defense, William Heirens: His Day in Court.  (Life) (American Justice) (Crime Library) (JD) (CNN)  [10/07]

 Cook County, IL

Cobb & Tillis

Nov 13, 1977

Perry Cobb and Darby Tillis (aka Darby Williams) were sentenced to death for the murders of Melvin Kanter and Charles Gucciona. The murders occurred during a robbery of the victims' hot dog stand. The prosecution's key witness was a woman named Phyllis Santini, who claimed that she had driven the getaway car for the two men. The defense argued that Santini and her boyfriend, Johnny Brown, had committed the crimes, and that she was framing Cobb and Tillis. The first trial ended in a hung jury, as did a second trial.

At the third trial, a witness who had earlier testified that he could not identify the defendants as the men he saw, suddenly changed his story and now claimed that he saw Cobb and Tillis enter the store. This third trial in 1979 ended in convictions and death sentences. Judge Thomas J. Maloney presided over the three trials and has since been convicted of taking bribes to fix murder cases. He was accused of being tough on defendants like Cobb and Tillis who did not offer bribes. Maloney refused to allow two defense witnesses to testify. The two claimed Santini had admitted committing the murders with Brown. The two also said she expected a reward for her testimony against Cobb and Tillis. (She was in fact paid $1200.) The Illinois Supreme Court reversed the convictions based on limitations that were put on the defense's ability to argue that Santini and her boyfriend were the true culprits.

While the parties were preparing for a fourth trial, Michael Falconer, a recent law school graduate, happened to read an account of the case in Chicago Lawyer. Falconer recognized Santini's name because he had worked with her in a factory before going to law school. At that time, Santini had confided in him that she and her boyfriend had committed a double homicide and that she was working with prosecutors in return for a deal that would keep her from being charged. Falconer, who had then become a Lake County prosecutor, testified about this conversation at the fourth trial, which again ended in a hung jury. Finally, at a fifth trial in 1987, both Cobb and Tillis were acquitted of all charges.  (CWC1) (CWC2) (JP) (PC)  [12/06]

 Cook County, IL

Jerry Miller

Sept 16, 1981

Jerry Miller was convicted of raping a 44-year-old woman. Miller had been stopped by a police officer a few days before the assault for allegedly “looking” into parked cars. After a composite sketch of the rapist was drawn using two eyewitnesses, the sketch was circulated and the officer who stopped Miller thought the sketch resembled him. Miller was brought in for a lineup and the witnesses identified him. At trial, the judge said the evidence against Miller was “overwhelming.” Miller was released from prison in 2006. DNA tests exonerated him in 2007 and identified the actual perpetrator. According to the Innocence Project, Miller is the 200th American exonerated by DNA testing.  (Chicago Tribune) (IP)  [6/07]

 Cook County, IL

Milwaukee Ave. Innocents

Nov 27, 1981

Rogelio Arroyo, Isauro Sanchez, Ignacio Varela, and Joaquin Varela were four members of the Varela family who were convicted of the shooting deaths of four members of the Sanchez family and the non-fatal shootings of two others in what became known as the Milwaukee Avenue Massacre. The shootings occurred at 2121 N. Milwaukee Ave. The families, both with roots in Guerrero, Mexico, had been engaged in a feud for six years. In 1990, the real killer, Gilberto Varela confessed to the crime in a collect call from Mexico. He and three others involved in the crime had fled to Mexico immediately after the killings. Illinois Governor Thompson commuted the convicted men's life sentences in 1991, but only after they agreed not to sue for their wrongful arrest and imprisonment.  (CWC) (ISI)  [7/05]

 Cook County, IL

Miguel Castillo

May 1988

Miguel Castillo was convicted of murdering Rene Chinea, a 50-year-old Cuban immigrant. Chinea's decomposing body was found in Castillo's apartment on May 18. Castillo had been in jail until May 11. Castillo was cleared in 2001 when a re-examination of medical evidence showed that Chinea died no later than May 9. Castillo was awarded $1.2 million from the City of Chicago and was eligible for $160,000 from the State of Illinois.  (CWC)  [7/05]

 Cook County, IL

Steven Manning

May 1990

Steven Manning was convicted of a 1984 kidnapping in Clay County, Missouri and the 1990 murder of trucking company owner Jimmy Pellegrino in Illinois. Pellegrino was last seen leaving his Will County home on May 14, 1990 and his body was found floating on June 3, 1990 in the Des Plaines River near the Lawrence Avenue Bridge in Chicago. Manning's convictions were based on the testimony of jailhouse informants. Manning, a former Chicago cop, had been an FBI informant, but when he no longer wanted to work for his FBI handlers, Robert Buchan and Gary Miller, he sued them for harassment. They retaliated by framing him for the crimes, for which he was sentenced to death. Manning was released in 2004 and awarded $6,581,000 in Jan. 2005 after a jury agreed that he had been framed. The 1984 kidnapping apparently never happened, as the kidnapped drug dealers did not report the crime for 6 years. The FBI refuses to criminally charge Buchan and Miller for their actions.  (CWC) (Chicago Tribune) (Justice: Denied) (Appeal)  [9/05]

 Cook County, IL

Daniel Taylor

Nov 16, 1992

Daniel Taylor was convicted of the murders of Jeffrey Lassiter and Sharon Haugabook. The victims were residents of a second-floor apartment at 910 W. Agatite Ave. Under police interrogation, the then 17-year-old Taylor confessed to the crime. According to the confession, Taylor and three fellow gang members entered the victims' apartment to rob them while four additional gang members waited outside as lookouts.

Just before Taylor was to be formally charged with the murders, he protested that he could not have committed the crimes because he had been in police custody when they occurred. When police checked their records, they found that Taylor was arrested at 6:45 p.m. on the night of the murders. The murders occurred at 8:43 p.m. A copy of Taylor's bond slip showed he was not released from the Town Hall District lockup until 10 p.m.

Nevertheless, police still charged Taylor with the murders. To corroborate his confession, they found a witness, Adrian Grimes, a drug dealer and a rival gang member, who, at trial, testified that he saw Taylor at 7:30 p.m. in Clarendon Park. Two police officers, Michael Berti and Sean Glinski, also testified that they saw Taylor at 9:30 p.m. when they emerged from an apartment half a block from the murder scene. The jury chose to believe Taylor's confession over police records. Taylor was sentenced to life in prison.

Following Taylor's conviction, Grimes said he lied at the request of detectives and to receive leniency on a narcotics charge. The officers who said they saw Taylor at 9:30 p.m. testified they dropped him off at a DCFS shelter at 10 p.m. However DCFS records show that he did not arrive there until 3 a.m. In addition, four months before the officers' report, a judge had ordered Officer Berti off the witness stand in an unrelated case and stated, “I don't believe a thing he says. He goes down in my book as a liar.”

Besides Taylor, seven of his fellow gang members were charged with the murders. No physical evidence connected any of them to the crime. While in police custody all seven confessed to the crime and each said Taylor was with them. Four of them were convicted of the crime, one was acquitted, and charges against the other two were dropped after their confessions were thrown out.  (Chicago Tribune) (People v. Patrick)  [7/08]

 Cook County, IL

Miranda Five

July 17, 1997

Omar Aguirre, Robert Gayol, Luis Ortiz, Duarte Santos, and Ronnie Gamboa were charged with the murder of 56-year-old furniture dealer, Sindulfo Miranda. Miranda was also tortured before he died with scissors and a broomstick. The first four were convicted because of eyewitness perjury and a coerced confession. Gamboa was acquitted. In 2002, a federal investigation later revealed that the crime was one of a series of crimes committed by the Carmen Brothers Crew street gang. The four were exonerated of the crime. In a 2006, three of the men were awarded $6.74 million.  (CWC) (JD)  [9/06]