From Color of Change

(VOD ed.: These cases are highly reminiscent of young Davontae Sanford’s case in Detroit. Click on to read this paper’s story on Davontae, which was also published in The Final Call. Also put his name in VOD search engine for updates.)

Recent DNA testing has proven the innocence of 10 Black men who were only children when they were forced by Illinois police to confess to murders they didn’t commit.

Some of them have been imprisoned for nearly 20 years, but despite the overwhelming evidence, which has even linked the crimes to the real killers, the state of Illinois refuses to recognize their innocence.

If enough of us speak out, we can expose these injustices and force the state of Illinois to do right by these men. Please join us in demanding that State Attorney Anita Alvarez immediately agree to overturn their convictions. It takes just a moment:

Robert Taylor, Dixmoore Five at 15

The Dixmoor Five 

In the first case, which occurred in October 1992, five Black teenagers, later called the Dixmoor Five, were arrested in Cook County, IL for the sexual assault and murder of 14-year-old Cateresa Matthews. Three of the five boys confessed to the crime in exchange for lighter sentences and testified against the others. They’ve since recanted their testimony, with one man claiming that he was tricked into signing a confession by local police.1

Robert Taylor still in prison, age 34

A few months ago, DNA samples taken from the victim were tested using modern techniques. The DNA didn’t belong to any of the men accused of her rape and murder — instead it was linked to a convicted rapist and armed robber who was 32 years old at the time.2

In the face of this overwhelming evidence, the State’s Attorney’s office stubbornly downplayed the significance of the DNA evidence and opposed the release of the men.

Terrill Swift, Englewood Five, then

The Englewood Five

Two-and-a-half years later, five more Black Cook County teenagers, known as the Englewood Five, were taken into custody for the sexual assault and murder of a 30-year-old woman named Nina Glover. In this case, five juvenile confessions resulted in the convictions of four teenagers (aged 14-18 at the time). While one teenager wasn’t convicted, the other four received lengthy prison sentences. Recently, DNA extracted from the victim was matched to a now deceased serial rapist and murderer — a man who has a history of preying on women and strangling them.3

Terrill Swift in prison now

The State has argued that any DNA match in this case would be inconclusive due to the lifestyle of the victim, who was known to engage in prostitution. However, the semen found in the strangled body of Ms. Glover is from a man that the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office has long believed was responsible for two strangulation-murders of prostitutes and violent assaults of at least five others.4

The Common Thread

The thread that connects both these cases? The teenagers were incarcerated as a result of confessions we now know were forced by police. Eight of the 10 teenagers confessed to police during intense and coercive interrogations, and six of the now grown men are still in custody.

Taminko Sanford, center, mother of Davontae Sanford, with his family outside court July 29, 2010

Coerced confessions play a part in almost a quarter of all wrongful convictions nationwide.5 Even the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized that teenagers are particularly susceptible to falsely incriminating themselves during questioning from police and should not be subjected to harsh interrogation tactics.6

Coercive interrogation practices must come to an end. Ensuring the release of these men wouldn’t just help correct a gross injustice — it would send a message to law enforcement that they can’t get away with forcing teenagers to confess to crimes they didn’t commit, and that this practice compromises the entire public’s safety.

Please join us in demanding that Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez agree to vacate the convictions of these young Black men, and when you do, ask your friends and family to do the same:

Thanks and Peace,

— Rashad, James, Gabriel, William, Dani, Matt, Natasha and the rest of the team
   August 9th, 2011

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1. “DNA evidence links man to 1991 murder, may clear 5 convicted in case,” Chicago Tibune, 04-15-11

2. “State’s response to petition for relief from judgement,” Circuit Court of Cook County, 04-29-11

3. “Man convicted in 1994 rape, murder pins hopes on advanced DNA test,” Chicago Tribune, 03-25-11

4. “State’s motion to dismiss request for post-conviction DNA testing,” Circuit Court of Cook County, 01-19-2011

5. “Understand the Causes,” Innocence Project

6. “Supreme Court case J.D.B. v. North Carolina,” Supreme Court opinion, October, 2010

Also click on for Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth (Northwestern University) report on these cases and link to national Rutgers Law Review study.

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