In 1991, a 14-year-old girl was sexually assaulted and killed in Dixmoor, a village in south suburban Chicago. Ten months after the victim’s body was found, police focused their investigation around Robert Taylor, Jonathan Barr, James Harden, Robert Lee Veal and Shainne Sharp. Three of them confessed after high-pressure police interrogations, and all five were arrested and charged with the crime.
DNA testing was conducted on sperm cells from swabs of the victim’s body, and the profile pointed to a single unidentified male – excluding all five teens. Regardless, the five men were charged with the crime. Two of them pled guilty and testified against the others in exchange for shorter sentences. Both men have since recanted their testimony. The other three were convicted after trials, and each was sentenced to at least 80 years in prison.
In March 2011, DNA from semen found on the victim’s body was linked to a man with a lengthy record including sexual assault and armed robbery convictions. He was 32 years old when his DNA was found in the 14-year-old victim’s body, and he currently lives in Chicago. In a written motion opposing the release of the Dixmoor Five, the State’s Attorney’s office downplayed the significance of the DNA results, which clearly implicate a man with no connection to the five teens convicted of the crime.
After months of ignoring calls for justice, a Cook County Circuit Court judge finally agreed to
set aside the convictions of Taylor, Barr, and Harden in November 2011. The State’s Attorney’s Office stated that it would be filing a motion soon to vacate the convictions of Veal and Sharp.
In this case, the Innocence Project represents Barr, who served 13 years in prison. The Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth at Northwestern University Law School represents Taylor, and the Exoneration Project at the University of Chicago Law School represents Harden. Veal is represented by attorneys at Valorem Law Group, and Sharp is represented by Jerry Peteet.
In November of 1994, the naked body of a 30-year-old woman was found strangled to death behind a house in the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago’s South Side. Four months later, a tip allegedly led police to investigate five teenagers in the murder. After intense interrogations, police said that all five had confessed to raping and killing the woman, although there were major factual discrepancies in their statements. Semen was identified on samples collected from the victim’s body and an early form of DNA testing was conducted, excluding all five suspects as possible contributors. Despite this evidence, prosecutors went forward with trials.
Based almost exclusively on the confessions, three of the men – Terrill Swift, Harold Richardson and Michael Saunders — were convicted by a judge and sentenced to 30-40 years in prison. A fourth, Vincent Thames, pled guilty in exchange for a 30 year sentence. Prosecutors dropped charges against the fifth man after his confession was suppressed.
In May 2011, a complete DNA profile of the semen found on the victim’s body after the crime was compared to a national database at the request of the Innocence Project and other organizations. The profile implicated another man, now deceased, who had been connected to a series of violent assaults and murders . Court filings by the State argue that any DNA match in this case would be inconclusive due to the lifestyle of the victim, who was known to engage in prostitution. However, the semen found in the strangled body of Ms. Glover is from a man that the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office has long believed was responsible for two strangulation-murders of prostitutes and violent assaults of at least five others.
On November 16, 2011, a Chicago judge overturned the convictions of Swift, Richardson, Saunders, and Thames, but the responsibility now falls to the State’s Attorney to dismiss charges in the case.
In this case, the Innocence Project represents Michael Saunders. Richardson is represented by the Exoneration Project at the University of Chicago Law School. The Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth at Northwestern University Law School represents Swift, and Thames, who served his complete sentence and was released recently, is represented by attorneys at Valorem Law Group.