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Cook County, IL
Mary Berner
1928 (Cicero)

Mary Berner was convicted of forgery.  Eight bank and department store employees identified Berner as the woman who had cashed bad checks at their facilities.  After the actual forger was arrested and confessed, the same people who had identified Berner identified this woman as the forger.  (CTI)  [7/05]

Cook County, IL
George Lettrich, Jr.
Dec 17, 1948 (McCook)

George Lettrich, Jr. was sentenced to death in 1950 for the murder of a 10-year-old girl.  He signed two confessions after 60 hours of questioning by Lyons, McCook, and Chicago police.  Letterich said one officer threatened that “he would knock my head through the wall and go on the other side and make mincemeat out of it.”  Letterich's confession did not agree with many of the known facts of the case.  In addition, another man confessed to the crime, a confession that authorities ignored and suppressed at Letterich's trial.  Letterich's conviction was overturned in 1952, and prosecutors dropped charges in 1953.  (CWC)  [1/06]

Cook County, IL
Kenneth Hansen
Oct 17, 1955

Kenneth Hansen was charged in 1994 with the famous unsolved murders of three 11 to 13 year old boys that occurred in 1955.  The victims were John and Tony Schuessler and their friend Robert Peterson.  They had traveled downtown to attend a matinee at a Loop theater and were found dead two days later in Robinson's Woods, outside of Chicago.

Hansen was on his honeymoon in Texas at the time of the murders, but he found his 40-year-old alibi impossible to confirm.  Four witnesses claimed he confessed to them separately and alone in 1955, 1964, 1968, and 1976.  There was no other evidence.  Three witnesses were paid informants.  Hansen was convicted and sentenced to 200 to 300 years of imprisonment.

After the trial, the fourth witness admitted his testimony was fabricated.  None of the witnesses mentioned the confessions to anyone before 1993.  In addition, after the trial, a woman came forward and claimed her dead husband, Silas Jayne, confessed to her to performing the murders in 1956.  She left her husband the next day.  Other witnesses and some physical evidence corroborated her story.  Despite there being no evidence that the boys were molested, the trial judge allowed evidence of Hansen's homosexuality and deviate lifestyle to be presented.  The 2002 retrial with new evidence and the widow witness also resulted in conviction.  Hansen died in prison in 2007.  (TruthInJustice)

Cook County, IL
Sammie Garrett
Nov 9, 1969

Sammie Garrett, a black man, was convicted of murdering his 28-year-old white girlfriend, Karen Thompson.  Thompson had been in a “highly emotional state” and left a purported suicide note.  Two police officers testified at Garrett's trial that, given the length of the shotgun and the location of the wound, it would have been impossible for Thompson to have shot herself.  Since there was only one bullet hole on the exterior of her head, they assumed it was an entrance wound.  However, five years later Thompson's remains were reexamined and the examination disclosed an entrance wound in the roof of her mouth that the original pathologist had overlooked.  The Illinois Supreme Court overturned Garrett's conviction in 1975 and the State's Attorney dropped charges.  (CWC) (Appeal)  [1/06]

Cook County, IL
Gary Dotson
July 9, 1977 (Homewood)

Sixteen-year-old Cathleen Crowell feared she had become pregnant after having consensual sex with her boyfriend and made a rape allegation as a plausible explanation to tell her parents.  It had not occurred to her that police would pursue her case.  Police made her make a composite sketch, and Crowell says they pressured her to pick Gary Dotson from a mug book, pointing out how much he resembled the sketch.  Dotson was arrested even though he then had a mustache that he could not have grown in the five days since the alleged incident.

At trial in July 1979, Crowell identified Dotson as her assailant.  The state's forensic analyst, Timothy Dixon, also testified that tests on the semen sample recovered from Crowell showed the alleged assailant had a “B” blood type which was shared by only 11% of the population including Dotson.  This testimony was false and misleading because Dixon did not volunteer that Crowell also had a “B” blood type and her fluids mixed in with the sample.  Thus the sample would have tested positive for the “B” blood type regardless of the blood type of the semen donor.  Dotson had four of his friends give alibi testimony, but the prosecutor branded them as “liars.”  Dotson was convicted.

Crowell subsequently married and moved to New Hampshire where she became a born-again Christian.  In early 1985, she told her pastor that she was riddled with guilt because she had sent an innocent man to prison.  On her behalf, the pastor contacted a Wisconsin lawyer who tried to resolve the matter, but prosecutors were unresponsive.  However, news about the recantation soon appeared in the Chicago Sun Times, taking up most of the front page.  Illinois Governor Thompson said he did not believe Crowell's recantation and an appeals court would not overturn the conviction.

The public supported Dotson and Thompson tried to assume a middle ground by paroling Dotson.  However, Dotson's parole was revoked two years later when his wife accused him of assault.  On Christmas Eve, 1987, Thompson granted Dotson another “last chance” parole, but it was revoked two days later when Dotson was arrested in a barroom fight.  In 1988, Dotson had DNA tests performed, which exonerated him.  He got his conviction overturned on Aug. 14, 1989 and the prosecution declined to retry him.  Many later reports on DNA testing listed Dotson as the first convicted person in the U.S. and the world to be exonerated by DNA evidence.  However, priority to judicial exoneration goes to David Vasquez of Virginia who was exonerated and released on Jan. 4, 1989.  Unlike Dotson's, Vasquez's case was little reported.  (CWC) (IP) (DNA) (American Justice) (TWM) [12/05]

Cook County, IL
Ford Heights Four
May 11, 1978

Kenneth Adams, Dennis Williams, Willie Rainge, and Verneal Jimerson were convicted of gang raping and murdering 23-year-old Carol Schmal and murdering her fiancé, Larry Lionberg.  The crimes occurred in the town of Chicago Heights which was subsequently renamed Ford Heights.  The four, who later became known as the Ford Heights Four, were sentenced to 75 years, death, life without parole, and death respectively.

Years later, Northwestern University journalism students investigated the case.  They uncovered a police file showing that, within a week of the crime, a witness had told the police that they had arrested the wrong men.  The witness said he knew who committed the crime because he heard shots, saw four men run away from the scene, and the next day saw them selling items taken from the robbery of the victims.  One of the men identified by that witness was by then dead, but the other three ultimately confessed.  Then the results of the DNA testing established the innocence of the Ford Heights Four and implicated the three who had confessed.  The four were pardoned and released in 1996.  In 1999, the four were awarded $36 million in damages.  Their case was the subject of a 1998 book entitled A Promise of Justice.

At a retrial in 1987, prosecutor Scott Arthur used blind belief in the police to counter defense arguments.  “Maybe the police made up all this evidence … That's too far-fetched.  If your find the defendants innocent, don't do it because [of a specific defense argument.]  Do it because you believe the police framed these men – because that's what you would have to believe now.”  In 1997, following a federal investigation into Ford Heights police corruption, Chief Jack Davis and five other officers – more than half the town's police department – were convicted of extorting bribes from drug dealers and abetting them in their distribution of heroin and crack.  Some of the real killers of Schmal and Lionberg were drug dealers and the police department protected them by charging and convicting four innocents of the murders.  (CWC1) (CWC2) (CWC3) (CWC4) (IP1) (IP2) (IP3) (IP4)  [1/06]

Cook County, IL
Paula Gray
May 11, 1978

Paula Gray was a fifth defendant in Ford Heights Four case.  She was Kenneth Adams girlfriend.  After being questioned for two nights, Gray, 17, and borderline mentally retarded, agreed to testify against the Four, which she did before a Grand Jury.  She soon recanted her testimony and was charged with the murders and with perjury.  Through the discovery process in the Ford Heights Four civil damages lawsuit, it became apparent that Gray's testimony had been coerced.  (CWC) (IP)  [7/05]

Cook County, IL
Steven Linscott
Oct. 4, 1980 (Oak Park)

When questioned by police about the murder of neighbor, Karen Ann Phillips, Steven Linscott told them of a violent dream he had the night of the murder.  The dream allegedly had details consistent with the murder, and his statement to police was regarded as a confession and used to convict him.  In 1992, DNA tests exonerated Linscott.  In 2002, Gov. Ryan granted him a pardon based on innocence.  (IP) (CWC) (DNA)  [12/05]

Cook County, IL
David Dowaliby
Sept 10, 1988 (Midlothian)

David Dowaliby was convicted of murdering his 7-year-old stepdaughter, Jaclyn.  Police initially assumed that the window, through which an intruder had allegedly entered to abduct Jaclyn, had been broken from the inside of their home.  There was more broken glass on the outside than on the inside but forensic analysis established that it had been broken from the outside.  During the investigation, Dowaliby and his wife, Cynthia, had followed police advice not to talk to the press, but such refusal had made them appear guilty.

At trial, for which both Dowaliby and his wife were charged with first-degree murder, the prosecution presented a witness, with a history of mental illness, who stated that he saw someone with a nose structure resembling Dowaliby on the night the victim had disappeared and near where her body was found five days later.  This witness, Everett Mann, made this identification from an unlighted parking lot 75 yards away on a moonless night.  The prosecution also presented 17 gruesome autopsy photos that are disallowed in many jurisdictions because they serve to prejudice a jury.  The trial judge gave Dowaliby's wife a directed verdict of acquittal, but the jury convicted Dowaliby.

Afterwards, in an interview, the jury forewoman said that fist marks on the door of a bedroom were critical to the jury's decision to convict Dowaliby.  These marks appeared in one of the evidence photos, but were never mentioned by either side.  The jury concluded from these marks that Dowaliby had a terrible temper.  In fact, they had no bearing on the case, as they had been present years earlier, before the Dowalibys had moved into their home.  The jury forewoman also said, that if given the chance, the jury would have convicted Dowalibly's wife as well.

An appeals court reversed Dowaliby's conviction in 1991, on the grounds of insufficient evidence.  The case came to a legal end in 1992 when the Illinois Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal by the prosecution.  The case is the subject of a book, Gone in the Night: The Dowaliby Family's Encounter With Murder and the Law by Protess and Warden (1993).  (CWC) (American Justice)  [12/06]

Cook County, IL
Melvin Bentley
Aug 5, 1990 (Ford Heights)

Melvin Bentley was convicted of murdering Leonard Jamison.  The murder occurred across the street from the Ford Heights police station in the parking lot of a tavern that functioned as an open-air drug market.  Two witnesses who had testified against Bentley later stated that they had been told to falsely implicate Bentley by the lead investigator, who had since been convicted of bribery and sent to federal prison.  The state released Bentley in 2000 in exchange for his agreement not to seek a new trial.  (CWC) (Google)  [7/05]

DuPage County, IL
Cruz & Hernandez
Feb 25, 1983

Rolando Cruz and Alejandro Hernandez were sentenced to death for the kidnapping, rape, and murder of 10-year-old Jeanine Nicarico.  The case against Cruz was built on the testimony of two detectives who said that Cruz had told them about a “vision” he had, and that he had accurately described facts of the crime.  The detectives had never taken notes about this supposed “vision,” had not arrested Cruz based on it, and had never told anyone about it for more than 18 months.  Nonetheless, based on this evidence and testimony from some jailhouse informants, Cruz was convicted.

Several months after the conviction, a man named Brian Dugan was arrested for a similar rape and murder of a little girl.  In the course of plea negotiations, Dugan told the authorities that he had committed several murders – including the one for which Cruz and Hernandez were on death row – and he provided accurate and detailed facts about each crime.

Cruz was given a new trial, but his lawyers were not allowed to inform the jury about all of the compelling evidence proving that Dugan had acted alone in raping and murdering the girl.  The prosecution presented the testimony of a new group of jailhouse informants, one of whom claimed that Cruz admitted to doing the crime with Dugan.  A jury again convicted Cruz and he was again sentenced to death.  This conviction, too, was later overturned.  Before Cruz's third trial, DNA tests excluded Cruz and Hernandez as the rapists, and implicated Dugan.  During the third trial, a lieutenant in the Sheriff's Department took the stand and admitted that he had lied when he corroborated the other detectives' testimony about the “vision” statement.  The trial judge entered a directed verdict of not guilty before the defense ever put on its case and Cruz was freed in 1995.  Hernandez was also freed.

In 1996, prosecutors Thomas Knight, Robert Kilander, and Patrick King, along with four sheriff's detectives, were criminally charged with conspiring to convict Cruz and Hernandez by fabricating evidence and withholding exculpatory evidence.  All were acquitted in 1999.  In 2000, Cruz, Hernandez, and a third defendant prosecuted for the same crime won a $3.5 million settlement from the county.  The case is the subject of a 1998 book, Victims of Justice.  (CWC1) (CWC2) (IP1) (IP2) (DNA) (JP)  [7/05]

DuPage County, IL
Marcus Lyons
Nov 30, 1987 (Woodridge)

Marcus Lyons, a black man, was convicted of raping a 29-year-old white woman.  The victim identified Lyons in a police lineup and from a photo array.  The victim requested to view the police lineup a second time, although police records do not indicate why.  A composite sketch of the assailant was shown to two other women who lived at the Maple Lake Apartments where the assault occurred.  They said it looked like one of their neighbors – Marcus Lyons.  Lyons wasn't surprised.  He said, “I was the only black male in the apartment complex.”

The victim's description of the assailant's clothes, which included a pair of brown polyester pants, matched clothing that Lyons owned.  Lyons says his brown polyester pants were a size 32 and could never have fit the actual perpetrator as the victim said her assailant weighed 200 pounds and had a “large belly and hips.”

At trial the jury was swayed by Lyons' resemblance to the composite sketch and by the demeanor of the victim, who was “shaking like a leaf” on the stand and “really gave the appearance that she was scared of this guy,” one juror said.  Lyons was sentenced to six years of imprisonment, of which he served three.  In 2007, DNA tests exonerated Lyons and his conviction was dismissed.  (Chicago Tribune)  [10/07]

Kane County, IL
Lavelle Davis
Dec 18, 1993 (Elgin)

Lavelle L. Davis was convicted of murdering Patrick “Pall Mall” Ferguson.  Ferguson was killed outside an Elgin apartment complex with a single shotgun blast at close range.  Davis's first trial ended in a mistrial after a key eyewitness said she was backing off testimony she gave at the earlier trial of a co-defendant. At Davis's second trial, the woman said she was finally coming forward with the truth – that she saw him shoot Ferguson.  Even Prosecutor Alice Tracy called the woman “an admitted liar” during the second trial.  A crime lab examiner, Stephen McKasson, testified that Davis's lips matched lip prints left on duct tape found near the scene of the slaying.  The prosecution theorized that Davis left his lip prints on the sticky side of the tape while demonstrating to others what he was going to do if Ferguson started to scream.

For some jurors in Davis's trial, including Doris Gonzalez, the lip print evidence was convincing--much more than the witnesses called by both sides who she said “were not very truthful people.”  However, following conviction, other forensic experts of weighed in.  Andre Moenssens, the author of a book on forensics said the use of lip print evidence amounted to “pure speculation and unadulterated conjecture.”  Ronald Singer, the president of the AAFS, the nations chief forensic society said, “At this stage of the game, you can put ear prints and lip prints and nose prints and elbow prints all in the same category – unverified and unvalidated.”  In Mar. 2006, Davis's conviction was overturned and he was granted a new trial.  Charges against Davis were dropped in 2009.  (Chicago Tribune) (Forensic-Evidence)  [3/08]

Kane County, IL
Jose Vasquez
May 15, 1994

Jose D. Vasquez was convicted of murdering 15-year-old Corey LeSure.  The Illinois Appellate Court found that the conviction rested on “false and misleading testimony” by Aurora police officer Marshall Gauer and by Larry Wilkinson, a purported eyewitness, who in reality was an informant working for Gauer.  Vasquez was exonerated in 2000 after this frame-up by police was exposed.  (CWC)  [7/05]

Lake County, IL
James Montgomery
Nov 15, 1923 (Waukegan)

James Montgomery, a 26-year-old black man, was convicted in 1924 of raping Mamie Snow, a 62-year-old mentally deranged white woman.  The prosecutor, A. V. Smith, who was a member of the Klu Klux Klan, had Snow identify Montgomery at a police station.  At Montgomery's 20-minute trial, the prosecutor concealed the fact that Snow could not recognize Montgomery the day after she had identified him.  The prosecutor also suppressed a medical report that showed that Miss Snow was still a virgin.  In 1949, following an investigation, a writ of habeas corpus was filed.  A federal judge then declared that Montgomery's innocence was clear, as was the prosecutor's guilt in manipulating the woman into giving false testimony about a rape that never occurred.  (Not Guilty) (The Innocents) (NY Times)  [11/07]

Lake County, IL
Alejandro Dominguez
Sept 19, 1989 (Waukegan)

Alejandro Dominguez, a 16-year-old Mexican national, was convicted of raping a white woman.  The assault occurred in a Waukegan apartment complex on the 2400 block of Dugout Road.  The victim initially described her English-speaking assailant as having a diamond earring and a tattoo.  Dominguez spoke only Spanish and did not have a pieced ear or a tattoo.  The victim, however, identified Dominguez as her assailant after the lead detective singled him out in a lineup and asked her if he was “the one.”  Forensic serologist William Wilson testified that tests performed on recovered semen could not exclude Dominguez as the perpetrator.  He did not volunteer that the tests could not exclude 67% of the population.  Dominguez served 4 years of a 9-year sentence.  After serving his time, Dominguez paid for his own DNA testing, which exonerated him, so that he could avoid deportation by the INS.  Gov. Blagojevich pardoned Dominguez in 2005.  Dominguez was awarded $9 million in 2006.  (CWC) (IP) (Chicago Tribune) (JD)  [7/05]

Lake County, IL
Juan Rivera
Aug 11, 1992 (Waukegan)

After interrogating him for four days, police alleged that 20-year-old Juan Rivera confessed to the rape and murder of 11-year-old Holly Staker.  Rivera, who had an IQ of 79, later testified that he was coerced into signing the confession that the police admit they wrote.  No physical evidence or eyewitnesses linked Rivera to the crime, and an electronic bracelet he was wearing due to a burglary conviction established he was home at the time of the crime.  However, Rivera was convicted in 1993.  Rivera's conviction was reversed in 1996, but he was convicted again on retrial and sentenced to life in prison.  Rivera was notified in 2005 that DNA tests had excluded him as the source of the recovered semen.  In court filings, prosecutors argued that Rivera could still be guilty of Stacker's murder, as the 11-year-old pre-pubescent victim may have engaged in consensual sex with someone earlier the same day she was killed.  However, Rivera's conviction was overturned.  In 2009, he was retried.  After initially reporting they were deadlocked, a jury ended up convicting him.  (Chicago Tribune) (2009 Post-Trial Motion)  [6/05]

Lake County, IL
Jerry Hobbs
May 8, 2005 (Zion)

Few cases have damaged Lake County’s credibility as much as the one against Jerry Hobbs. In the spring of 2005, Hobbs arrived in Lake County after a two-year stint in a Texas prison for chasing a rival for his girlfriend’s affections with a chain saw. His plan was to reconcile with the girlfriend, who was now living in Zion, Ill., and to become reacquainted with their three children.
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McHenry County, IL
Gary Gauger
Apr 8, 1993

Gary Gauger was convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of his parents, Morris and Ruth Gauger.  Gauger's parents ran a farm, operated a motorcycle shop, and sold importe../IL/d_rugs._nbsp.css; At trial, detectives claimed that during interrogation when they told Gauger that he killed his parents, Gauger said he must have killed them during a blackout because he knew nothing about it.  They then claimed that Gauger told them he really did commit the crime.  However, the only details ascribed to Gauger ended up being flatly inconsistent with the facts of the crime.  Gauger said they had him speculate about the crime after falsely telling him that he failed a polygraph exam and that blood drenched clothes were found in his room.  The prosecution also presented testimony from a jailhouse informant, Raymond Wagner.

An appeals court overturned the conviction because it found that Gauger was arrested without probable cause and this fact made the entire interrogation unconstitutional.  Without the confession, Gauger was not retried, but prosecutor Gary Pack continued to affirm his guilt.  Pack's affirmations stopped after the ATF had uncovered wiretap evidence that two members of the Outlaws motorcycle gang had committed the murders.  (They were later indicted for them.)  Wagner reportedly is willing to admit his testimony was fabricated if he is paid for an interview.  Gauger was freed in 1996. He later co-wrote a book about his ordeal entitled In Spite of the System.  (CWC) (JP) (  [7/05]

Will County, IL
Franklin Thompson
Feb 6, 1994

Franklin Thompson was convicted of the murder of Jacqueline Oaki, a 41-year old prostitute.  Thompson was a decorated Vietnam veteran who had a narcotics addition.  Under police interrogation, Thompson confessed to running over Oaki in his 1991 Pontiac Sunbird.  However, his tire prints did not match those left at the crime scene.  Nor did other crime scene evidence implicate him.  Two hours before her body was found, a 911 call was made from the home of Robert Ezell, in which a woman could be heard screaming for help.  Oaki's family has identified the voice as Jacqueline's, but Ezell has refused to identify the voice.  In 2003, Gov. Ryan granted Thompson a pardon based on innocence.  (CWC)  [1/06]

Will County, IL
Kevin Fox
June 6, 2004 (Wilmington)

Kevin Fox was charged with the murder of his 3-year-old daughter, Riley.  Fox had confessed to the crime after a grueling interrogation that lasted more than 14 hours.  Riley had fallen asleep on the living room couch, but was missing from her house the next morning.  The front door was open.  She may have opened it herself and gone outside.  There were no signs of forced entry.  Riley was found later that day, drowned in a creek four miles from her home.  She had been sexually assaulted.  Her arms and mouth were bound with duct tape.  Fox was released after spending 8 months in jail.  DNA tests failed to link him to the crime.  Fox and his wife were awarded $15.5 million from Will County in Dec. 2007.  The County plans to appeal the award.  (Chicago Tribune)  [4/08]