The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office will dismiss all charges Wednesday against four men who as teenagers signed confessions to a 1995 double murder and armed robbery they did not commit. The men, who are being called the “Marquette Park 4,” collectively spent over 70 years in prison. Over the last two decades, they were represented pro bono by multiple local law firms and organizations.
New fingerprint evidence from the crime scenes that excluded Charles Johnson, Larod Styles, Lashawn Ezell and Troshawn McCoy and positively matched another unrelated individual with a felony record persuaded prosecutors to reach this extraordinary decision. Johnson and Styles were released on bond last fall after each serving over 21 years of their mandatory life without parole sentences. Ezell already completed his 20-year sentence and McCoy, who was sentenced to 55 years in prison, will soon be released from the Illinois Department of Corrections.
Kirkland & Ellis LLP; the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law; Jenner & Block LLP; The Exoneration Project at the University of Chicago Law School; Riley Safer Holmes & Cancila; and Cotsirilos, Tighe, Streicker, Poulos & Campbell all represented various parties involved in this matter.
State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s decision will become official at 9:30 a.m., Wednesday in court at the George N. Leighton Criminal Court Building when she agrees to dismiss all charges. This quadruple exoneration marks the first post-conviction murder exonerations of Ms. Foxx’s administration.
Johnson, Styles and Ezell and their lawyers will host a press conference at 2:30 p.m. CT Wednesday, Feb. 15, at Kirkland & Ellis, 300 N. LaSalle, to answer questions about the case.
In 2008, the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law, which receives thousands of letters from inmates each year, selected Johnson’s case. Steven Drizin, from the Center, asked Kirkland to partner with them. Kirkland partners Justin Barker and Tim Knapp, along with Drizin and Joshua Tepfer, who is now with The Exoneration Project, worked together on Johnson’s case.
After years of investigation and litigation seeking additional fingerprint testing, the team uncovered numerous new matches from fingerprints left at the scene of the crime to previously unidentified convicted felons with no connection to the men accused of this crime. One of these individuals left five prints at two different crime scenes, including on the adhesive side of a marketing sticker the perpetrators ripped from a car they stole to flee the scene.
Based on this new evidence, the team of lawyers filed two extensive post-conviction petitions on behalf of their client, including an innocence petition in 2010. In 2013, the First District Appellate Court ordered an evidentiary hearing based on the newly-discovered fingerprint evidence, agreeing that it cast grave doubt on the reliability of the convictions.
In July 2016, prosecutors agreed to vacate the convictions of Johnson, Styles and Ezell in light of the new fingerprint evidence. At the time, however, prosecutors indicated they planned to go forward with a retrial. But after taking office, State’s Attorney Foxx and her staff reviewed the evidence and instead decided to dismiss all charges against the three men and a fourth defendant, McCoy, because the evidence proved they were innocent.
“We knew Charles was innocent,” said Barker, who has worked on the case for the past eight-and-a-half years. “We told Charles unequivocally that our team believed in him and would never rest until he was free. We are pleased with State’s Attorney Foxx’s decision and hope that decision will give the men a new start on their lives.”
“I have nothing but gratitude in my heart,” Johnson said. “I want to thank my family, led by my mother, who stood by me and believed in me through this entire ordeal. I want to thank my lawyers and their organizations and all of the law students who made this day possible: Steve Drizin (Center on Wrongful Convictions), Josh Tepfer (Exoneration Project), Justin Barker and Timothy Knapp (Kirkland & Ellis), Ron Safer and Eli Litoff, (Riley Safer Holmes & Cancila), who fought so hard for me for so many years. I also want to thank Jenner & Block who represented me at trial and who saved me from a death sentence. Last but not least, I want to thank State’s Attorney Kim Foxx and her staff for restoring my faith in the justice system.”
“These men are innocent and they are not the first to be wrongfully convicted,” said Drizin, of Northwestern’s Center on Wrongful Convictions. “They are also not the first to be pressured by Chicago police detectives into giving false confessions to murder. Today, the Marquette Park Four, join the Englewood Four, the Dixmoor Five, and dozens of other men, women and children as young as age 7 and 8 (the Ryan Harris case) who have confessed to murders they did not commit.”
“These four purported confessions only add to Chicago’s notorious reputation as the ‘False Confession Capital,’” said Tepfer from The Exoneration Project. “I am grateful that prosecutors took a fresh look at this case and reached the same conclusion we've been maintaining for many years: that these 'confessions' are false and our clients are innocent."
Larod Styles, who was represented by attorney Terry Campbell, said, “After having been in prison for 21 years for a crime I didn’t commit, I’m just so thankful to be free for the first time since I was 16-years-old. I was lucky to have a family and friends who stood by me for those 21 years, and an attorney who fought for years for the truth to come out. I sincerely thank State’s Attorney Foxx for her decision today.”