The Justice Project - Profile of Injustice

Michael Evans and Paul Terry’s Story

In 1976, Michael Evans and Paul Terry were arrested for a murder they did not commit based on eyewitness identification. Both men were convicted because defense lawyers were not given exculpatory information which would have cast down on the testimony of the sole eyewitness.

Identification Procedure
On January 19, 1976, five days after the rape and murder of nine-year-old Lisa Cabassa, Judith Januszewski came forward as a witness to the crime. The police asked Januszewski to come to the police station, where she was questioned about what she had witnessed, and her statements were recorded in a police report. During the interview, Januszewski stated that she left work “at approximately 6:37 pm” and began walking home. Although it was dark, and Januszewski was not wearing her glasses, she stated to the police that she had seen two black men pulling a young girl towards an alley on the day Lisa Cabassa was murdered.

On February 6, 1976, police wrote a supplemental report concerning the substance of Januszewski’s interview on January 19. This report contained several significant changes from the previous police report. Most notably, in the February 6 report, Januszewski is said to have told police that she had left work a little after 8:00 pm, not 6:37 pm. The February 6 report also stated that she had seen a third black man on the night of the murder. Additionally, according to the February 6 report, Januszewski stated that she was not able to see the girl’s face well and did not name the girl she saw as Lisa Cabassa, despite the fact that she knew Lisa. Moreover, the February 6 report also stated that Januszewski had told the police that she was not sure whether what she witnessed was Lisa Cabassa’s abduction or instead “an older brother bringing his sister home.”

After insisting for weeks to the police that she could not identify the men she had seen with the victim, on February 26, 1976 the police locked her in a “roach-infested” interrogation room for ten hours with no bathroom where they repeatedly asked her to give names for the men she had seen on the night of the crime. The police officers offered the name “Michael Evans” to her as a possible suspect. These vital facts were not disclosed to Evans’s attorneys.

Januszewski knew Evans because he would occasionally stop by the real estate office where Januszewski worked to visit a co-worker. On February 26, police officers were at Januszewski’s workplace when Evans walked by. Januszewski pointed Evans out to the officers and he was arrested immediately and taken to the police station. Januszewski was also taken to the station and placed in an interrogation room next to Evans. Although Januszewski had initially insisted that she did not recognize the men she saw on the night of the crime, she identified Michael Evans as one of the men she had seen that night.

The Trials
In June 1976, Evans was prosecuted on rape and murder charges. Evans’s attorney moved to suppress the identification and arrest, but both motions were denied. In a bench trial before Judge Earl Strayhorn, Evans was found guilty, despite the limited evidence against him. In fact, in a response brief, police officers later stated, “The prosecution’s case rested entirely on the testimony of Ms. Januszewski.” On September 27, 1976, Judge Strayhorn granted Evans’s motion for a new trial, finding that the prosecution had failed to disclose material information prior to trial thereby violating Evans’s right to a fair trial. Most significantly, Evans’s attorney was not told that Januszewski had contacted the reward hotline instead of the police, and that Januszewski had been paid $1,250 by the Illinois Law Enforcement Commission, after identifying Evans. This important information concerning Januszewski’s possible incentive to lie was not shared with the defense before trial.

Police continued to search for other suspects in the case, and more than nine months after Evans’s conviction, showed a teenager from Lisa Cabassa’s neighborhood a composite sketch, prepared from the information Januszewski had provided police. The teenager identified the suspect as Paul Terry. Terry was then placed in a line-up, and Januszewski identified him as the second man she had seen with Lisa Cabassa. On November 17, 1976, Paul Terry was arrested and charged with the rape and murder of Lisa Cabassa. Evans and Terry were tried together (Evans for a second time) before a jury, and on April 27, 1977 they were convicted of murder, aggravated kidnapping, rape and sexual assault. They were each sentenced to 400 years in prison.

Evans and Terry appealed the convictions. On December 4, 1979, the First District Illinois Appellate Court affirmed the convictions and sentences. Evans and Terry requested a rehearing, which was also denied on February 14, 1980.

The Exonerations
With the help of the staff at the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law, Evans filed a motion for DNA testing in October 2001. The DNA results excluded Evans and Terry as the source of the DNA found on the rectal swab taken from the victim. On May 23, 2003, both Evans’s and Terry’s convictions were vacated and on August 22, 2003, their charges were dropped and both men were released from prison. On January 6, 2005, Governor Rod Blagojevich granted both men pardons based on innocence, saying, “Serving time in prison - years in some cases - for a crime you didn’t commit is one of the worst things that could happen to someone… Thanks to DNA technology, these [two] men were exonerated. A pardon will help each of them rebuild their lives, and that’s why I granted them.”

On May 24, 2004, Evans and Terry filed lawsuits against the City of Chicago and individual police officers. At depositions taken of Januszewski and her former husband, Harry Januszewski, new information concerning the criminal case came to light, further indicating that exculpatory evidence was withheld prior to their trial. Harry Januszewski stated that he had been suspicious about his wife’s involvement with the police. He claimed that his attempts to inform the police that his wife had a history of lying and petty fraud were ignored. Additionally, when he accompanied his wife to court in order to raise his concerns with the prosecutors, he was detained in a holding room, away from the proceedings, until court was adjourned for the day. None of these facts were discovered by the defense until their civil suit. Broadened discovery laws would have obligated prosecutors to disclose these facts to Evans’s attorneys during the criminal trial.

Both Evans and Terry filed lawsuits for wrongful imprisonment. In August 2006, the jury in Evans’s case denied his claims. Evans has received $160,000 from the state as compensation for 27 years of false imprisonment, and has an appeal pending in the Seventh Circuit. Terry’s case is also pending in the Circuit Court of Cook County. In the end, both men failed to receive fair and just trials because prosecutors did not give the defense access to exculpatory information that would have cast doubt on the testimony of the single eyewitness.