Christopher Abernathy, 48, was released from prison on Wednesday after Cook County (IL) Judge Frank Zelezinski vacated his 1987 conviction for a rape and murder Cook County (IL) officials now acknowledge he did not commit. Abernathy had served nearly 30 years of a life sentence for the crime.
Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez’s Conviction Integrity Unit reviewed DNA evidence from the crime, presented by Abernathy’s attorneys, which excluded Abernathy. Subsequent testing of all of the evidence from the crime confirmed that another unidentified man viciously raped and killed high school sophomore Kristina Hickey in 1984 in Park Forest. The State’s Attorney requested that the conviction be vacated.
As reported in the Chicago Tribune, Abernathy may have had learning disabilities, had left school at age 15, and had undergone 40 hours of interrogation before signing a self-implicating statement. He was 18 at the time and claimed innocence thereafter. The witness who alleged Abernathy had confessed to him later recanted and said police had pressured him to testify against Abernathy.
The Illinois Innocence Project at the University of Illinois at Springfield represented Abernathy. Congratulations to Mr. Abernathy, staff attorney Lauren Kaeseberg and the Illinois Innocence Project, private detective Sergio Serritella, and Ann Kolus, Abernathy’s 73-year-old mother, all of whom persevered in efforts to prove Abernathy’s innocence.
Read the Chicago Tribune story (here).
Read the NPR article (here).