The Dixmoor Five: exonerated after nearly 20 years.
Wrongful convictions (Law)
|Publication:||Name: The Forensic Examiner Publisher: American College of Forensic Examiners Audience: Professional Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Health; Law; Science and technology Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2012 American College of Forensic Examiners ISSN: 1084-5569|
|Issue:||Date: Spring, 2012 Source Volume: 21 Source Issue: 1|
|Topic:||Event Code: 980 Legal issues & crime Advertising Code: 94 Legal/Government Regulation Computer Subject: Company legal issue|
|Product:||Product Code: 9101312 Rape NAICS Code: 92212 Police Protection|
|Geographic:||Geographic Scope: Illinois Geographic Code: 1U3IL Illinois|
The rape and murder conviction of Robert Taylor, one of the men known as The Dixmoor Five, was vacated in November of 2011. "After spending almost two decades in jail for a rape and murder he didn't commit, Robert Taylor, now 34, walked out of an Illinois prison a free man" (Tarren 2011). The reversal was brought to the forefront by a long struggle by the Innocence Project, the University of Chicago's Exoneration Project, and the Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth. These groups all fought forcefully to convince Cook County prosecutors to reevaluate the case in light of the fact that a different individual, and convicted sex offender, was identified as the single-source of the DNA taken from the victim.
In 1991, middle school student Cateresa Matthews went missing from her grandmother's house in Dixmoor, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. Her body was recovered three weeks after she was reported missing. Cook County investigators determined the victim had been raped and suffered a gunshot wound to the mouth (Tarren 2011). Investigators collected DNA evidence from the scene, which would prove to be the key to the exoneration of the five young men--each of whom either plead guilty or were convicted of the monstrous crime. The Dixmoor Five, as they were dubbed by the press at the time of the tragic crime, consisted of James Harden, Jonathan Barr, Robert Taylor, Robert Lee Veal, and Shainne Sharp.
The case had gone cold, but "nearly a year after the murder, the Illinois State Police interrogated Veal, a 15-year-old. After five hours in police custody, Veal signed a written statement implicating himself, Taylor, 15, Barr, 15, Harden, 17; and Sharp, 17." Shortly after, Taylor also signed a written confession, and after 21 hours in custody, Sharp did the same (Chicago News 2011).
According to the Chicago News, "In June 1994, before any of the teenagers were tried, the Illinois State Police crime lab identified a lone male DNA profile from sperm recovered from the victim's body. Even though all five defendants were excluded as the source of the semen, the prosecution pushed forward, rather than seeking the source of the semen recovered from this young victim." Veal and Sharp plead guilty and testified against the three other boys in exchange for a reduced 20-year sentence. They have both been released after serving approximately 10 years each. Meanwhile, their testimony was a critical factor leading to the convictions of Taylor, Harden, and Barr, all of whom remained incarcerated until Taylor's release last November. Plans are being made to vacate the sentences of the remaining four men, which will lead to the release of Barr and Harden.
The Dixmoor Five case is just one of dozens of wrongful conviction cases in Illinois that has been made public in recent years. All of these teens knew each other from school, including the victim. Defense attorneys claim the teens who confessed were questioned relentlessly, and at least one suspect was told that he could see his parents if he signed the confession (Tarren 2011). Last year, Veal informed his defense lawyers that he repeatedly told police he was not involved in the murder but signed the confession believing that it contained the details of his denials. Veal has been diagnosed with severe learning disabilities, according to his attorney (Grimm, Mills 2011).
One month before Taylor's release, a new round of DNA evidence testing was completed. When the profile was entered into the Illinois State database, it matched Willie Randolph, a 33-year-old man at the time of the 1991 rape and murder. In '91, Randolph had already been convicted of a sexual assault and was paroled near the victim's home. Still, state prosecutors argued against new trials for the men and stated in court that the DNA match to the convicted rapist did not amount to new evidence because the men were excluded by DNA at the trial (Grimm, Mills 2011).
Craig Cooley, a staff attorney with the Innocence Project, stated, "After months of offering up disingenuous arguments to delay justice, we're relieved the State's Attorney's Office has finally seen the light. This case is a classic example of tunnel vision ... facts should have sent up a red flag 20 years ago" (Chicago News 2011). Randolph is currently under investigation for the 1991 rape and murder of the young girl.
Chicago News. Adapted from Adapted from a joint news release by the University of Chicago's Exoneration Project, the Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth, and the Innocence Project. Law School's Exoneration Project helps free wrongly convicted man. Retrived December 24, 2011, from http://news.uchicago.edu/article/2011/11/04/ law-schoo1039s-exoneration-project-helps-free-wrongly-convicted-man.
Mills, S., Grimm, A. Convictions vacated in '91 rape, slaying of Dixmoor girl. Chicago Tribune. Retrieved December 28, 2011, from http://articles.chicagotribune. com/2011-11-03/news/chi-prosecutors-vacate-convictions-in-91-rape-slaying-of- dixmoor-girl-20111103_1_dna-tests-cateresa-matthews-murder-convictions.
Tareen, Sophia. Convictions Vacated Against 3 In 1991 Dixmoor Rape, Murder. Associated Press Retrieved December 28, 2011, from http://www.huffingtonpost. com/2011/11/03/convictions-vacated-again_0_n_1074763.html.
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