Spanish TranslationEnglish Text
Rolando Cruz
Rolando Cruz

Incident Date: 2/23/83

Jurisdiction: IL

Charge: Rape, Murder, Kidnapping, Home Invasion

Conviction: Murder, Rape, 2 Counts Aggravated Kidnapping, Dev. Sex. Assualt, Agg. Indec. Liberties w/ Child, Residential Burglary, Crim. Sex. Abuse, Agg. Crim. Sex. Abuse

Sentence: Death +

Year of Conviction: 1985

Exoneration Date: 11/3/95

Sentence Served: 10.5 Years

Real perpetrator found? Yes

Contributing Causes: False Confessions / Admissions, Government Misconduct, Unvalidated or Improper Forensic Science

Compensation? Yes

The Crime
 
On February 23, 1983, 10-year-old Jeanine Nicarico disappeared from her home in Naperville, Illinois. Suffering from the flu, Jeanine was at home alone when she was abducted. Her body was found two days later. She had been raped and beaten to death. The only clue left behind was a boot print on the front door of the home.
 
The Investigation
 
A $10,000 reward attracted the attention of Rolando Cruz, a 20-year-old gang member who gave the police a fabricated story in the hope of collecting the reward. In the process, Alejandro Hernandez and Stephen Buckley were also implicated. On March 8, 1984, on the basis of his statements and other statements by several witnesses, Cruz, Hernandez and Buckley (whose boot print was said to have been found on the door of the Nicarico house) were arrested. All three were charged with the murder of Jeanine Nicarico, residential burglary, home invasion, aggravated kidnapping, aggravated indecent liberties, deviate sexual assault, and rape.
 
Before the 1985 trial, the lead detective in the case, John Sam, resigned in protest, because he believed the three men were innocent. Undaunted, prosecutors pressed ahead, basing their case on a false police claim that Cruz had revealed details of the crime that only a participant would have known, on the testimony of five informants who claimed that Cruz and Hernandez had confessed, on an inculpatory statement Hernandez had made while angling for a reward, on two erroneous eyewitness identifications of Buckley as the driver of a car that might have been used in the crime, and on invalid forensic testimony purporting to link Buckley to the boot print left by the killer.
 
The Trial
 
The jury found Cruz and Hernandez guilty, but could not reach a verdict on Buckley. Cruz and Hernandez were sentenced to death, and Buckley was held without bond for retrial. Shortly after the trial a serial killer named Brian Dugan confessed that he alone had committed the crime. Prosecutors dismissed the charges against Buckley, but steadfastly defended the convictions of Cruz and Hernandez. On January 19, 1989, their convictions were reversed on appeal because of prejudicial errors by prosecutors and the trial court judge.
 
Post-Conviction
 
Cruz and Hernandez were retried separately and again convicted, largely because much of the evidence proving that Dugan had committed the crime was excluded from consideration. Cruz was again sentenced to death and Hernandez to 80 years. Even after DNA testing in 1992 excluded both men as sources of biological material recovered from the victim, prosecutors refused to relent. Assistant Attorney General Mary Brigid Kenney, who was assigned to oppose Cruz’s second appeal, sent a memo to Illinois Attorney General Roland Burris identifying numerous errors in the investigation and trial leading to Cruz’s conviction, including “perjured testimony” and “fraudulent investigations by local officials.” Burris disregarded Kenney’s memorandum, and she resigned in protest.
 
In 1995, after Cruz’s second conviction was reversed and lawyers were preparing for a third trial, a police lieutenant testified at a pre-trial hearing that he took a call from two detectives who reported Cruz had made admissions. By the time the third trial started, the lieutenant had discovered that he was on vacation in Florida on the day in question and could not have taken the phone call from the detectives. The lieutenant’s testimony created a damaging link in the claim that Cruz had made admissions and was a critical factor in the trial court judge acquitting Cruz at the close of the prosecution evidence on November 3, 1995. Cruz was released immediately. Cruz was issued a full pardon based on innocence. Charges against Hernandez were dismissed and he was freed a month after Cruz.
 
DNA eventually established definitively that Dugan committed the rape and murder of Jeanine Nicarico. He pleaded guilty and, after a jury hearing, was sentenced to death in 2009. In March 2011, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed legislation abolishing the Illinois death penalty and commuted the death sentences of Dugan and 14 other men then on death row to life in prison without parole.
 
- Center on Wrongful Convictions

Rolando Cruz
Rolando Cruz

Incident Date: 2/23/83

Jurisdiction: IL

Charge: Rape, Murder, Kidnapping, Home Invasion

Conviction: Murder, Rape, 2 Counts Aggravated Kidnapping, Dev. Sex. Assualt, Agg. Indec. Liberties w/ Child, Residential Burglary, Crim. Sex. Abuse, Agg. Crim. Sex. Abuse

Sentence: Death +

Year of Conviction: 1985

Exoneration Date: 11/3/95

Sentence Served: 10.5 Years

Real perpetrator found? Yes

Contributing Causes: False Confessions / Admissions, Government Misconduct, Unvalidated or Improper Forensic Science

Compensation? Yes

El 23 de febrero de 1983, Jeanine Nicarico, una niña de diez años, desapareció de su casa. Cuando su hermana volvió a casa se encontró con que la puerta principal había sido forzada y que su hermana había desaparecido. Rolando Cruz, un adolescente en el momento de los hechos, fue detenido, acusado y condenado por la violación y el asesinato de Nicarico. Fue condenado a muerte así como otro acusado, Alejandro Hernandez. El jurado fue incapaz de dictar sentencia para un tercer acusado.

La policía encontró el cuerpo de Nicarico en una arboreda días después de su desaparición. Murió como consecuencia de numerosos golpes en la cabeza. Se encontró la huella de una bota en la puerta principal de la casa y distintas huellas en el exterior de una ventana trasera. Las numerosas huellas sirvieron posteriormente para apoyar la hipótesis de que más de una persona había participado en el crimen.

Algunos meses más tarde, bajo la presión de la comunidad y en el marco de un año electoral, la policía detuvo a Alejandro Hernandez, que incriminó a Rolando Cruz a cambio de una pequeña recompensa económica. Los dos se acusaron mútuamente para obtener recompensas y contraprestaciones de la policía. Hernandez obtuvo recompensas por un valor total de 10.000 dólares por sus declaraciones en las que acusaba a Cruz y a otro hombre, Stephen Buckley, que no fue condenado.

Cruz y Hernandez fueron acusados en base a declaraciones que ambos hicieron. Los agentes que habían interrogado a Cruz y a Hernandez testificaron en el juicio que los dos habían hecho declaraciones acusatorias. Varios testigos aseguraron que Cruz y Hernandez habían confesado tener información de primera mano sobre el crimen. Ninguno tenía una coartada sólida. Por último, la prueba más insustancial y perjudicial fue el testimonio de los detectives del sheriff, que aseguraron que Cruz había reconocido tener visiones del crimen, y que estas visiones describían con precisión detalles relacionados con el crimen. Sus testimonios fueron admitidos como prueba si bien nadie se había molestado en gravar la declaración sobre las visiones.

Cruz consiguió soportar tres juicios y tres condenas gracias a los recursos presentados con la ayuda de Larry Marshall and David Protess, de la Universidad de Northwestern, que asignaron a sus estudiantes la investigación del caso. En setiembre de 1995, las pruebas de ADN demostraron que el semen encontrado cerca de la escena del crimen no podía ser de Cruz o Hernandez, y que un hombre llamado Brian Dugan no podía ser eliminado como coautor. Los prosecutors insistieron en el hecho de que ambos hombres podrían haber estado presentes en el crimen. Hernandez iba a tener un juicio ante un cuarto jurado. Antes de que el juez diera su veredicto en el caso de Cruz, un teniente del departamento del sherif decidió retractarse del testimonio que había dado en juicios anteriores.

El 3 de noviembre de 1995 después de que ambos hombres hubieran pasado doce años en el corredor de la muerte ambos casos fueron anulados y Cruz y Hernandez fueron puestos en libertad. El tribunal puso en libertad a Cruz y anulo el caso de Hernandez en base al hecho de que uno de los testigos se habia retractado de su testimonio, las pruebas de ADN (DNA en su denominación en inglés) y la ausencia de pruebas en su contra.

Brian Dugan no ha sido acusado de asesinato. Su confesión, hecha por medio de declaraciones bajo el efecto de la hipnosis, no pudo ser utilizada en su contra.