Time Served: 20.5 years
On April 28, 1994, the body of Antwinica Bridgeman was found in the basement of an apartment building in the 900 block of West Garfield Boulevard on the south side of Chicago. Bridgeman, who disappeared after celebrating her 20th birthday on April 11, had been raped and murdered.
In a city where more than 900 murders were recorded that year, Bridgeman’s was particularly brutal. A length of half-inch pipe had been shoved into her vagina and a piece of concrete had been jammed into her mouth. She had died of suffocation.
Michael Barger and 25-year-old Nevest Coleman discovered her body. Coleman’s sister, Jennice, lived on the second floor of the building. Coleman had been among the friends who celebrated with Bridgeman on the night of her birthday.
The basement appeared to be an area where people congregated to use drugs and have sex, based on the array of used condoms, drug paraphernalia, liquor bottles, and beer cans that were scattered about.
Detectives William Foley and Michael Clancy interviewed Chester Latham, a friend of Bridgeman’s. Latham said that the day before Bridgeman disappeared, he had noticed a hickey on her neck. Latham said she told him that a man she knew as “Chip” had tried to sexually assault her, but she fought him off and escaped. Latham also said that Bridgeman had recently changed her allegiance from the Vice Lords street gang to the Gangster Disciples gang, and that Chip and another man she called “Dap” were harassing her about the switch.
The detectives determined that Coleman was “Chip” and another man, Eddie Taylor, was “Dap.” In the early morning hours of April 29, 1994, Coleman was arrested and interrogated by Foley and several other detectives, including Kenneth Boudreau, William Halloran, and James O’Brien. At the time, Coleman was a well-respected member of the grounds crew at Comiskey Park, home of the Chicago White Sox baseball team. He had never been arrested.
Coleman later said that after sitting in an interrogation room for 30 minutes and denying any involvement in the crime, a detective came in and called him a “lying assed nigger.” When Coleman insisted he knew nothing, the detective punched him in the side of the head twice with a closed fist.
Detectives then told him that if he just answered their questions—if he went along with their version of what happened—he would be allowed to go home. The detectives rehearsed what they wanted Coleman to say, and ultimately, Coleman gave a court-reported statement that implicated Taylor and 26-year-old Darryl Fulton as being involved in the abduction, rape, and murder of Bridgeman.
Detectives then arrested Fulton and brought him to the station for questioning. After Fulton denied any involvement in the crime, a detective came into the interrogation room and hit him in the face. The detective then threatened to take Fulton out of the station and “put a bullet in his brain,” Fulton later said.
Fulton was shown a copy of Coleman’s court-reported statement, but he still insisted he was not involved in the crime. Eventually, however, after being told that he would be released if he signed a statement, a detective gave him a hand-written confession and Fulton signed it.
Taylor refused to confess.
Coleman, Fulton, and Taylor were each charged with first-degree murder and aggravated criminal sexual assault. Coleman was also charged with aggravated kidnapping.
By the time Coleman and Fulton went to trial in Cook County Circuit Court in May 1997, the prosecution had dismissed the charges against Taylor. Fulton and Coleman were tried together, but with separate juries. No forensic or physical evidence linked either Fulton or Coleman to the crime.
The detectives denied physically abusing Coleman and Fulton, and said that they voluntarily confessed to the crime.
On May 13, 1997, Coleman and Fulton were convicted of all the charges. Cook County Circuit Court Judge Dennis Porter denied the prosecution’s motion to impose the death penalty, and sentenced both men to life in prison without parole.
Nearly 20 years later, in 2016, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s conviction integrity unit began re-investigating the case. In June 2016, some of the evidence in the case was sent to the Illinois State Police crime lab for testing. Among the items to be tested were the sweatshirt and underwear Bridgeman was wearing when she was killed, as well as clippings from her fingernails.
The Illinois State Police crime lab found semen present on the sweatshirt and underwear. In December 2016, the clothing and clippings were submitted for DNA testing. The tests revealed the same male profile on the underwear and in the clippings from Bridgeman’s left hand. Coleman, Fulton, and Taylor were all excluded from that profile.
The unidentified profile was submitted to the FBI DNA database (CODIS). The profile matched a man who had been convicted of several rapes and who had lived not far from Bridgeman.
In August 2017, Russell Ainsworth, an attorney with the Exoneration Project at the University of Chicago Law School, filed a post-conviction petition on behalf of Coleman, and attorney Kathleen Zellner filed a similar petition on behalf of Fulton. The petitions cited the results of the DNA testing and the link to the serial rapist as grounds to vacate the convictions and grant both men a new trial.
Coleman’s petition also cited evidence that some of the detectives involved in his case, including Foley, Halloran, O’Brien, and Boudreau, had been involved in several other wrongful convictions involving false confessions.
The petition cited the exonerations of Dan Young Jr. and Harold Hill, as well as that of Harold Richardson. It noted a 2001 article in the Chicago Tribune on Boudreau that exposed how he had gotten confessions from more than a dozen suspects who were acquitted at trial, or whose cases were dismissed.
In 1992, Boudreau and Halloran got false confessions from Peter Williams, Young, and Hill to a gruesome murder of a woman whose body was set ablaze. Williams was released prior to trial because records showed he was in jail at the time of the crime. Young and Hill, however, were convicted and sentenced to life in prison without parole. They were exonerated by DNA testing in 2005.
In 1995, Detective Foley was involved in getting a false confession from Richardson, who was one of four youths known as the “Englewood Four.” The Englewood Four had falsely confessed and were convicted of murdering a woman in Chicago’s South Side. Richardson and his co-defendants—Terrill Swift, Vincent Thames, and Michael Saunders—were exonerated by DNA in 2012.
On November 17, 2017, the prosecution agreed that Coleman’s and Fulton’s convictions should be vacated. On November 20, 2017, they were released from prison.
On December 1, 2017, the prosecution dismissed the charges. Later that day, Fulton, under his true first name, Derrell, filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the detectives, including Halloran, Foley, Clancy, O’Brien, and Boudreau.
In February 2018, Coleman filed a federal civil rights suit against the city of Chicago seeking damages for his wrongful conviction. In March 2018, Coleman and Fulton each were granted a certificate of innocence.
– Maurice Possley from National Registry of Exonerations
Conviction: sexual assault, murder
Sentence: life + 30 years
Incident Date: 04/11/94
Conviction Date: 05/12/97
Exoneration Date: 12/01/17
Served: 20.5 years
Case Year: 1997
Year of Exoneration: 2017
Race of Defendant: African American
Race of Victim: African American
Status: Exonerated by DNA
Contributing Causes of Conviction: False Confessions or Admissions
Type of Crime: Homicide Related, Sex Crimes
Innocence Project Involved: No
Death Penalty Case: no
Accused Plead Guilty: No
Compensation: Not Yet
The Alternative Perpetrator Identified: Yes