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Man Seeks Justice for Nearly Three Decades of Wrongful Imprisonment

A man who spent 29 years in prison for a crime he did not commit is suing the Village of Park Forest and Cook County.

In a federal lawsuit, Christopher Abernathy, 49, claims he was coerced into confessing to the 1984 rape and murder of a 15-year-old girl. He claims two Park Forest police officers interrogated him for 36 hours, during which they physically abused him and promised that he could go home, if he adopted their version of events.

According to the lawsuit, Abernathy had his 19th birthday during the interrogation. He was a high school dropout with developmental and learning disabilities.

In 2014, Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez announced she was reopening the investigation to test DNA evidence.

The DNA left behind at the crime scene belonged to two distinct men: Neither of them were Christopher Abernathy.

He was released from prison in February 2015.

Abernathy’s attorneys say the near-three decades behind bars has caused such immense emotional damage, their client will never be the same.

The lawsuit names Cook County, The Village of Park Forest, former officers Carl Kuester and Donald Meyers and the prosecutor on the case, Paul Perry.

A press release from Abernathy’s attorneys, Torreya Hamilton and Damon Cheronis, says they hope the lawsuit will bring some justice and some security as he learns to navigate the world.

“A corrupt investigation into the horrific death of Kristina Hickey led to Chris Abernathy’s
wrongful conviction,” the release reads. “The cell doors locked him into the brutal world of a maximum-security prison when he was just a teenager, and last year he walked out as a nearly 50-year-old man.”

A spokesman for the village confirmed that officers Kuester and Meyers no longer work for Park Forest, but declined to comment further.

The Cook County State’s Attorney’s press office did not respond to questions.

No one else has been arrested for the rape and murder 15-year-old Kristina Hickey is still free.

Patrick Smith is a WBEZ producer and reporter. Follow him @pksmid.

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