It’s amazing how quick they can destroy your life with a lie.
THOMAS PETERS STUMBLED in the middle of the street and fell.
A man driving by North Laramie and Lake stopped his car just under the ‘L’ track. He and his passenger got out. They had heard gunshots seconds before.
“Would you take me to the hospital please?” Peters moaned.
Follow the stories of three Illinois exonerees through their wrongful convictions, releases and struggles to put their lives back together as free men.
The men put him in the front, erecting the seat because blood had started coming out of Peters’ mouth.
He was bleeding from the chest too and making strange sounds. Blood continued to pour from him. The upholstery absorbed the liquid.
“THEY WERE INTUBATING my son and blood were going everywhere,” Peters’ mother told the court in October 1992.
She was describing the scene at Loretto Hospital in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood on an early September morning two years prior, where her son was treated before being shipped to Cook County Hospital, the place of his death.
The lethal bullet entered his left side, traveled slightly upward, a strange movement that fractured a rib and hemorrhaged an upper lobe of his lung and his throat. Under the left collarbone, the assistant medical examiner would later find a small, disfigured bullet fragment and put it in a special envelope to give to police.
Around 1:30 that morning, Peters had decided to try his luck in a dice game outside Belmonte Cut Rate Liquors on North Laramie, near the Twin Pigs restaurant on the corner.
“You go into the liquor store and buy some beer, and I’m going to be here playing some dice at this dice game,” he told his 20-year-old nephew.
“Come on. Let’s go home,” his nephew said.
“No,” Peters told him. “I just want to play one more game. Hold on one minute.”
Soon after, some men approached the sidewalk game and began shooting.
A second man was hit. He had tried to join the dice game after picking up a six-pack for his auntie. Shot in his right shoulder blade, he thought the blood running down his back was sweat, as it was humid outside. He ran his hand up his back and realized he had been shot. Finding his way home, he hitched a ride to the hospital, was treated and released later that day.
In court, he didn’t identify 30-year-old Antione Day as the shooter. But in a lineup two years prior, he picked him out.
“Why did you frame him?” a lawyer asked at trial.
“When I viewed the lineup with Twon Day in it, I was told by friends of the deceased to make sure that I picked Twon Day out of that lineup,” he testified.
THREE DAYS LATER, rumors about the shooting were circulating through the streets of Austin.
Antione heard police were looking for him, so he went in to Area Five Violent Crimes to clear his name. His mother told him to bring a lawyer, and he did, but he still found himself alone in an interview room.
While detained, Antione remembers talking to a young guy—whom he didn’t know to be Peters’ nephew—who was waiting outside the door a few feet away, a detail a police detective denied ever happened at trial. The same detective also denied cuffing Antione’s hands together.
“What are you here for?” Antione says he asked him.
“Man, they just brought me down here. Told me to look at something.”
Minutes later, the young man identified Antione in the fourth position of a lineup. About two years later at trial, he identified him again as the man who killed his uncle.
JUDGE THOMAS DWYER was a novice judge in 1992, having been appointed to the bench the year before. In 1993, the Chicago Bar Association advised he “work on dispelling the perception of poor temperament,” according to a Chicago Reader article that same year.
“Mr. Lott,” Dwyer said to Antione’s attorney at one point during the trial. “Would you like your client to sit closer to you? I don’t want him to look like he is an orphan.”
A former police detective, Dwyer also had 16 years of prosecutorial experience under his belt when he assumed control of courtroom 301 in Cook County’s criminal courthouse at 26th and California.
He alone was tasked with deciding Antione’s fate in what’s called a bench trial. No unanimous jury of peers, a right that must be waived by the defendant in Illinois – though Antione attests to not having done that. Court records are unclear as to whether it was properly conveyed.
Dwyer considered the evidence before him, including the testimony of a crime scene witness who cleared Antione, identifying him only as a man wearing a rust-colored suit in court, a neighborhood acquaintance he had known to play in a band about town.
But Dwyer wasn’t moved. He found Antione guilty.
IN JANUARY 1993, two weeks after Antione’s 31st birthday, it was time for sentencing.
Antione’s attorney, Gay Lloyd-Lott, was given some time to lay out his client’s attributes. He described Antione as a student of music since the age of nine. His family got him private music lessons.
Lloyd-Lott continued. Antione dropped out of high school and went to work for a manufacturing company, working his way up to drill press operator. From there, he went to work for a printing operation. From there, a butcher’s shop. All the while, his passion for music sustained him, and he played in a band.
“While he is not married, he is the father – he is a father, and has been supporting his children,” Lloyd-Lott said. “. …So I submit to your honor that the events that the state has so meticulously recited to the Court are completely inconsistent with the life this man has led. This man is not that person who could do that and did not do it, and I would submit to your Honor that while the Court necessarily must play this out and impose a sentence, consecutive sentences, it would serve no purpose.”
“Sir, is there anything you wish to say before sentencing?” Dwyer asked Antione.
Antione addressed the court: “I'd like to say I'm sorry for the family. I'm sorry for my family, and the things that I have been through for something I didn't have nothing to do with, knew nothing about.”
He took a beat, then kept going:
“Your Honor, I'd like to say that even though I may have to go to the penitentiary and spend years and years of time down there, whatever that may be, I just hope that I make a stepping stone for my kids so they will never have to go through the same thing I'm going through. And I hope I can paint a picture for anybody else that can look at this and see that this is not what they want to be into. And I have been through this for some time now, and I have learned that the wheels of justice have been turning, hopefully, to help the family, and I still say now that I'm being wrongfully accused of something that I didn't do, and I would like to always have another chance to be a father to my kids.”
Dwyer sentenced him to 60 years for murder and 25 years for attempted murder and five years for a firearms charge. He detailed the next steps for post-trial motions and then asked: “Do you understand what I have said, sir?”
“Yes, sir,” Antione answered.
“I wish you luck.”