Unreliable Evidence Cost Man 25 Years and Chicago $6.3 Million

According to the Chicago Sun-Times (here), the City of Chicago has agreed to pay $6.3 million to Larry Gillard to settle a federal lawsuit alleging that the Chicago police crime lab distorted evidence, which contributed to his wrongful conviction of a 1981 rape.  Gillard served 25 years in prison before DNA proved his innocence.

Two pieces of unreliable evidence conspired to convict Gillard. A Chicago Police Crime Laboratory analyst testified that Gillard was among 4.4 percent of African Americans who could have committed the crime. The crime lab was later shut down when it was discovered in an audit that it did not comply with standards. The suit alleged that the lab misrepresented the results in Gillard’s case.

The rape victim also provided compelling evidence when she identified Gillard in a photo lineup. However, in a landmark FBI study of 8,000 cases in which victims had identified a stranger rapist, DNA proved that in about 25% of the cases the victims’ identifications were incorrect.

The Exoneration Project of the University of Chicago Law accepted and worked on Gillard’s case. DNA testing not only proved he was not the rapist but also identified the actual perpetrator.

According to the case report on The National Registry of Exonerations (here):

“Gillard’s conviction was dismissed and he was released on May 26, 2009.

On August 27, 2009, Judge Paul Biebel, Jr., presiding judge of the Criminal Division of the Cook County Circuit Court, granted Gillard a certificate of innocence, qualifying him for $170,000 in compensation for his wrongful conviction.”

Gillard’s attorney, Jon Loevy of Loevy & Loevy, said that if the police crime lab had reported the results of their testing accurately, Gillard “never would have been convicted.”

It was this alleged misrepresentation of the forensic evidence that enabled the lawsuit and the recovery.

This tragic stumbling of justice demonstrates the impact of unreliable evidence. With the victim’s (mistaken) identification and (inaccurate) forensic testimony, the jury took less than an hour to convict Gillard.

This case and countless others also illustrate a post-DNA-era truth: Prosecutors cannot simply present evidence, and then “let the jury decide.” They must first do all possible to assure that the evidence presented is truthful and reliable.

A single piece of unreliable evidence, such as a misidentification, can easily trump an alibi and other exculpatory evidence and convict an innocent person. A combination of two or more pieces of unreliable evidence is frighteningly effective in convicting the innocent. Until we implement reforms and recommendations that will preserve the integrity of evidence, juries will be mislead, innocent people will be convicted, and actual criminal perpetrators will continue to victimize.

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