On Friday afternoon, Sept. 14, 2012, Judge Paul Biebel, chief judge of the Criminal Division of the Cook County (IL) Circuit Court, granted certificates of innocence to four men—Vincent Thames, Terrill Swift, Harold Richardson, and Michael Saunders—who became known as the Englewood Four after their conviction of the 1994 rape and murder of a South Chicago alleged prostitute.
Ranging in ages from 15 to 18 at the time, the four teens confessed during interrogation by Chicago police. No physical evidence connected them to the crime. As reported by the Center on Wrongful Convictions here, the four were found guilty without a jury by Judge Thomas Sumner, who said that without the 22-page confession “there is no case.” Their sentences ranged from 30-40 years.
Defense lawyers—including Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth staff attorney Josh Tepfer and the Center’s legal director Steve Drizen, representing Terrill Swift—sought more advanced DNA testing on the male biological evidence from the victim in 2010. Prosecutors initially resisted and argued that the testing would not prove innocence in this case. But in May 2011 State Police announced that the DNA matched a deceased violent offender who had been convicted of killing another prostitute. The four, who had served about a decade and a half, were exonerated as a result.
Friday’s order will open the door to payment to each man of about $200,000 in state compensation and may lend support to potential civil lawsuits.
The case is similar to another recent Illinois multiple exoneration—that of the “Dixmore Five”—in which five teens allegedly falsely confessed to a 1991 rape/murder and had their convictions vacated after nearly two decades of incarceration when evidence DNA linked to a convicted rapist.
This latest step toward redemption for the Englewood Four underscored a dramatic reversal of fortune. As reported here, ten years ago Judge Biebel ordered special prosecutors to investigate allegations of torture and coercion by Chicago police under then Police Commander Jon Burge. The prosecutors found the allegations to be truthful. Today, as the Englewood Four are becoming accustomed to freedom, former Police Commander Burge is in prison, serving a 4½ year sentence after conviction on federal charges of lying about the interrogation abuses.
Judge Biebel’s order can be accessed here.