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Prosecutors won’t retry four men granted new trials in murder-rape case

By Steve Mills and Jason Meisner, Chicago Tribune –

CHICAGO — Cook County prosecutors said on Tuesday they would not retry four men who won new trials late last year in a 1994 rape and murder in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood after DNA evidence linked a convicted murderer to the brutal crime.

After prosecutors announced the decision at a brief hearing at the Criminal Courts Building, one of the four, Michael Saunders, pumped his fist as the other defendants hugged each other and their lawyers and supporters applauded in the courtroom. One of the attorneys, Joshua Tepfer of Northwestern University’s Center on Wrongful Convictions, loudly invited everyone to a party at the center’s offices.

“When we got the match, naturally I thought it was going to be over the next day,” Terrill Swift, 34, another of the men, said of the DNA findings from last May. “But I guess I didn’t understand the way the legal system worked. It was a long process. But it paid off today.”

Saunder also acknowledged the long fight and called Tuesday “a great day.”

Swift, Saunders, Vincent Thames, and Harold Richardson were all teens when they were convicted of the murder and rape of 30-year-old Nina Glover.

Judge Paul Biebel, the presiding judge, threw out the convictions in November, saying DNA evidence was powerful evidence of their innocence and likely would lead to acquittals at a new trial.

The DNA connected convicted murderer Johnny Douglas to Glover’s murder; he was shot to death in 2008.

The decision by Illinois Attorney Anita Alvarez to dismiss the charges against the four followed an “exhaustive review of all the information and the evidence” in the case, she said in a statement. Prosecutors did not have enough evidence to meet their burden of proof, she said.

While extending sympathies to the Glover family, Alvarez did not say she believed that the four men were innocent of Glover’s murder.

“…Based on the facts and the evidence at hand, I believe this is the right decision,” Alvarez said in the statement.

Alvarez’s decision came 2 1/2 months after she announced that prosecutors would drop rape and murder convictions against five other men in the 1991slaying of a 14-year-old girl in Dixmoor. In that case, which bears striking similarities to the Englewood murder, new DNA testing linked a convicted rapist to the crime. Prosecutors have questioned that man but have not charged him with the murder.

In both cases, defense lawyers argued that DNA evidence undermined confessions. Indeed, in cases all across the country, DNA has illuminated the criminal justice system’s frailties, showing how confessions and eyewitness identifications can be faulty.

Although primitive DNA testing before trial excluded the four men as the source of semen found in Glover’s body, prosecutors said the confessions connected them to the murder. Thames even pleaded guilty.

After his release from prison after 15 years, Swift sought DNA testing in the hopes it would identify the real killer. Prosecutors initially opposed the new testing but later agreed after the Tribune wrote about their opposition. DNA from the crime scene matched Douglas, who had a lengthy criminal history that included murder and assaults against women. Prosecutors sought to explain away the DNA link by saying that Glover’s history of trading sex for drugs made it possible she had consensual sex with Douglas and that he was not her killer.

Swift, who works at a tire shop in Bolingbrook and hopes to write a book about his experience, said being labeled a sex offender had been as difficult as the time he spent in prison and also fueled his drive for the DNA testing.

“That label is so deadly,” Swift said. “It isn’t me in no form or fashion.”

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