Incident Date: 12/8/94
Charge: First-degree murder
Conviction: First-degree murder
Year of Conviction: 1996
Exoneration Year: 2012
Sentence Served: 16 Years
Real perpetrator found? Yes
Contributing Causes: False Confessions / Admissions
Compensation? Not Yet
On December 8, 1994, 71-year-old Frederick Reckling was bludgeoned to death in his Waukegan, Illinois, appliance store. His attacker stole $1,800 and escaped in the victim’s car, which was later found abandoned.
The Investigation and Confession
James Edwards was arrested for an unrelated armed robbery on January 4, 1996. Following an interrogation which occurred over a 27-hour period, he confessed to the robbery, to Reckling’s murder, to the murder of a woman who was shot in Ohio in 1974 and to several other crimes (including a bank robbery which surveillance tapes showed he did not commit). He signed a typewritten statement confessing to Reckling’s murder and then was videotaped while reading the statement.
Conventional serology testing conducted at the time of his trial in 1996 indicated that blood found on the carpet at the crime scene and in several places in the victim’s car did not match Edwards or Reckling. Defense attorneys said that they received the evidence too late to conduct DNA testing. At trial, prosecutors claimed that the blood could have been left by store employees, a claim supported by the testimony of employees, who said they frequently cut themselves at work and drove Reckling’s car.
Based largely on his confession, Edwards was convicted in 1996 of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison (he was also sentenced to 60 years for the unrelated armed robbery and a life sentence for the unrelated murder in Ohio).
Edwards worked as his own attorney in prison, repeatedly requesting DNA testing. In 2010, the Illinois Supreme Court ordered the testing over the objections of Lake County District Attorney Michael Waller who personally prosecuted the Edwards case. The DNA profile matched another man, who had been convicted of several robberies.
Edwards’ murder charges were dropped on May 29, 2012, but he is still incarcerated due to the armed robbery conviction and the conviction for the unrelated murder. Edwards claims that his confession to the unrelated murder was also false and is seeking to clear his name (but does not appear to dispute the armed robbery charge).