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Kenneth Adams
Kenneth Adams

Incident Date: 5/11/78

Jurisdiction: IL

Charge: Murder, Rape

Conviction: Murder, Rape

Sentence: 75 Years

Year of Conviction: 1979

Exoneration Date: 7/2/96

Sentence Served: 17.5 Years

Real perpetrator found? Yes

Contributing Causes: Eyewitness Misidentification, False Confessions / Admissions, Unvalidated or Improper Forensic Science

Compensation? Yes

In 1978, along with friends Dennis Williams and Willie Rainge, Kenneth Adams was convicted of gang-raping and murdering a twenty-three year old woman and murdering her fiance. The victims were abducted from a filling station close to where the male victim worked. The female victim was repeatedly raped in an abandoned townhouse in what is now Ford Heights and then both victims were shot and killed. Adams was sentenced to seventy-five years in prison, Williams to death, and Rainge to life without parole. The main evidence in the case was the identification testimony of a witness who claimed she saw four men commit the crimes. The fourth man, Verneal Jimerson, was convicted and sent to death row. The four young men convicted for this crime were to become known as the Ford Heights Four.

Williams, Adams and Rainge were tried together in 1978, and represented by an attorney named Archie Weston. The state's chief witness in the case, Paula Gray, claimed to have been at the scene of the crime with the four men. After her testimony secured indictments of all four men, she recanted and the charges against Jimerson were dropped.

During trial, the state presented eyewitness testimony placing Williams, Adams and Rainge near the scene of the crime at the time of the crime. There was a major timing inconsistency in this witness' account, but Weston failed to point it out to the jury.  A state expert testified improperly that a hair found in Williams' car microscopically "matched" Williams' hair, saying: “Just like if you drop two dollar bills and you see dollar bills on the floor. You see two one dollar bills. It's obvious." Microscopic hair comparison can never prove a conclusive match, but Weston failed to challenge this evidence. Hair evidence cannot be individualized based on microscopic analysis.  Because there is not adequate empirical data on the frequency of various class characteristics in human hair, it is impossible to say definitively that strands of hair “matched” a particular person. There was also incorrect serology testimony in the case.

Williams won a new trial in 1985. Gray, who had been convicted as an accomplice and for perjury after her recantation, reverted to her original story and testified against Williams to gain her own release from prison. The charges against Jimerson were also refiled and both men were convicted and sentenced to death.

Archie Weston would later admit during a hearing in a different case that he was so stressed during the trial of Williams, Adams and Rainge that he couldn't think straight. He was disbarred for fraud committed in another case.

Adams's appeals were denied, but Williams and Rainge won new trials and were convicted again based on both the eyewitness testimony and the perjured testimony that had convicted Jimerson.

With the help of David Protess, Rob Warden, and a team of journalism students from Northwestern University, the four men gained access to the evidence for DNA testing. They also discovered that the police had been tipped to the identity of the actual perpetrators, but did not pursue the lead. Eventually, DNA testing exonerated all four men and implicated three other men, two of whom confessed and pleaded guilty to the crimes in 1997.

The prosecution's star witness later recanted her story, saying she made it up because she felt pressured and threatened by the police. The Ford Heights Four settled civil claims for $36 million against the police officers involved in the original investigation. Governor Jim Edgar granted pardons to all four men, who were released from prison in 1996.
Kenneth Adams
Kenneth Adams

Incident Date: 5/11/78

Jurisdiction: IL

Charge: Murder, Rape

Conviction: Murder, Rape

Sentence: 75 Years

Year of Conviction: 1979

Exoneration Date: 7/2/96

Sentence Served: 17.5 Years

Real perpetrator found? Yes

Contributing Causes: Eyewitness Misidentification, False Confessions / Admissions, Unvalidated or Improper Forensic Science

Compensation? Yes