Four men from Chicago cleared of 1994 rape and murder

September 14, 2012

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(WBEZ/Robert Wildeboer)
Harold Richardson is one of the four men granted a certificate of innocence friday.

Four men from Chicago have been declared innocent of a crime for which they each spent about 15 years in prison.

As teenagers in 1994, the men confessed to raping and murdering 30-year-old Nina Glover, a prostitute in the South Side neighborhood of Englewood. But despite those confessions, Cook County Judge Paul Biebel declared Terrill Swift, Michael Saunders, Harold Richardson and Vincent Thames innocent. Biebel said he struggled with the fact that the men confessed to the 1994 crime, but he said those confessions were trumped by new DNA evidence.

That evidence included a new DNA test that showed that a semen sample taken from the victim belonged to a now deceased man named Johnny Douglas. Douglas had a long history of strangling and beating prostitutes. He was also interviewed by police at the scene of the crime where he said he didn’t know the victim. Judge Biebel said he was also struck by the fact that there was no DNA in the victim from any of the convicted men, despite the fact that they were charged with raping her.

Terrill Swift is one of the men cleared. “I think people already knew I was innocent. It doesn't take a judge or a rocket scientist to say that. The evidence showed it,” said Swift.

Swift says the certificate of innocence allows him to move on with his life. “Had a slow start. Started at 34 but I'm having fun now, I'm living life now,” says Swift.

Prosecutors under Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez had decided not to retry the men after their convictions were thrown out, but the office opposed the certificates of innocence. They argued that as a prostitute she could have had consensual intercourse with Douglas before being raped and murdered. They also argued that the confessions were valid.

Judge Biebel knows something about confessions and false confessions. A decade ago he ordered the appointment of special prosecutors to investigate torture and coerced confessions by police working under former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge. That special prosecutor found torture did occur and Burge is now in prison on federal charges for lying about the torture. The effects of the Burge scandal were possibly on display in the courtroom Friday where only two reporters showed up to cover the story of four men being declared innocent of a 20-year-old crime, a story that would have garnered headlines in an earlier era in Chicago.

The certificates of innocence will qualify the men for a couple hundred thousand dollars in compensation from the state and would bolster any lawsuits they may bring in the future.