Center of Wrongful Convictions attorneys Karen Daniel and Judith Royal filed a petition for post-conviction relief (here) two weeks ago in the continuing saga of Daniel Taylor, imprisoned since 1992 for a double murder. The inconvenient conundrum is that Taylor and his lawyers have insisted that his confession was coerced, and official records support Taylor’s claim that he was in a police lockup at the time of the crime. That’s a particularly strong alibi, but thus far, it’s not been enough for Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez.
Taylor, who was 17 when arrested, is one of eight who confessed and implicated one another in the murders of Sharon Haugabook and Jeffrey Lassiter. All but one of the men, Dennis Mixon, claimed that their confessions were coerced. The petition notes that in January 2013 Mixon admitted being at the murder scene with two others and that Taylor and his co-defendants were not present.
Previous reports of the case on this blog (here) and (here), detail Taylor’s long litigation efforts to prove his innocence after his confession two decades ago, a time when few understood that false confessions can occur. We now know that they definitely do occur and in some jurisdictions more frequently than others. In fact, Chicago, with its high number of juvenile false confessions, was infamously dubbed the “false confession capital” by Sixty Minutes in its comprehensive segment (here) on the subject.
Rob Warden, Executive Director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions reports that 31 of the 77 wrongful convictions that have been documented in Cook County have involved false confessions. A report authored by Warden and Ron Frederickson (here) indicates that since 1986, 55 of 104 wrongful convictions documented in the state of Illinois “rested in whole or part on false confessions. Thirty-eight of the cases involved the defendant’s own confession and the remaining 17 stemmed principally from co-defenants’ false confessions.” Nearly all of the cases also involved other contributors such as mistaken eyewitness identification, government misconduct, ineffective counsel, etc.
According to the Chicago Tribune article, at trial, prosecutors successfully discounted the evidence supporting Taylor’s alibi presented by his lawyer—an arrest report and bond slip that indicated Taylor was in jail after an arrest for disorderly conduct two hours before the murders and held until more than an hour after the murders.
Over the years, Taylor and his attorneys benefited from an investigation by the Tribune. The paper discovered documents that would have supported Taylor’s defense had they been turned over to the defense as required in Brady vs. Maryland. These included the record of an effort to find a man who was in jail when Taylor claimed he was there. The Tribune located the man, who said that police had also found him years ago but did not pursue the issue once he told them that he had indeed remembered being in jail that night with a young black man and identified Taylor from a photograph as the man in jail with him.
The Illinois Attorney General’s office recently discovered that the Cook County District Attorney withheld other documents that would support the accuracy of Taylor’s lockup records. In the post-conviction petition for relief Taylor’s lawyers noted that during the federal court proceedings, the Office of the Illinois Attorney General “reviewed the State’s Attorney’s trial file and discovered notes written by Assistant State’s Attorney Dave Styler (“Styler notes”); these notes memorialized statements by Chicago Police personnel confirming that Taylor was in the 23rd District lockup at the time of the murders. (Exh. 1) In an accompanying cover letter the Attorney General’s Office stated, ‘We believe that these notes, written during the latter part of December 1992, were not previously tendered to Daniel Taylor’s trial counsel…’”
Even as the state’s Office of the Attorney General has noted these alleged Brady violations, State’s Attorney Alvarez continues to defend Taylor’s conviction.
Alvarez was commended a year ago when she established a Conviction Integrity Unit to investigate claims of wrongful convictions. This initiative was touted as a change of direction for an office that had been criticized for its handling of wrongful conviction claims. According to a report (here) by Steve Mills, the Integrity Unit has received more that 150 cases for review, and its staff of four prosecutors and investigators are actively pursuing dozens of cases. Two men have been exonerated thus far.
The Taylor case is one that could test the sincerity of the Conviction Integrity Unit. However, many hope that Alvarez will simply do the right thing in this case, enabling her Conviction Integrity Unit’s resources to be directed to cases with more ambiguity.