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Two Chicago Men Sentenced to Life in Prison Declared Innocent

By Innocence Staff

In 1997, Nevest Coleman and Darryl Fulton were sentenced to life in prison for the 1994, abduction, rape and murder of a 20-year-old woman in Chicago. But 20 years later, after DNA evidence excluded Coleman and Fulton from crime scene evidence and identified a local man who’d been convicted of several rapes, it was revealed that both men were innocent. The same judge who’d sentenced the men to spend the rest of their lives in prison two decades ago told them last Friday, “You’re free to go.”

According to a recent article in the Chicago Tribune, no physical evidence linked Coleman or Fulton to the crime. They were implicated in the crime when Coleman and a friend found the body of the victim in the basement—which was accessible only from the outdoors—of Coleman’s mother’s house. The victim had disappeared a few weeks prior.

Coleman was taken to the police station where he was both physically assaulted and called a “lying assed n—er” by one of the police officers interrogating him. Ultimately, Coleman maintained his innocence but was coerced into signing a court-reported statement that implicated him as well as Fulton and one of their other friends. Fulton was then arrested and taken to the police station where he too was physically assaulted and threatened to be shot in the head by a police officer. Fulton, too, eventually signed a confession although he insisted that he was not involved in the crime.

At trial, Coleman and Fulton were both found guilty and barely escaped the death penalty.

In 2016, after trying to prove their innocence for decade, the conviction integrity unit at Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office reinvestigated the case. Evidence was submitted for DNA testing. It was discovered that the DNA profile found excluded Coleman and Fulton but was consistent with another man convicted of other rapes. Earlier this year, 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 petition for Fulton, and in November the men’s convictions were vacated and they were released.

Last Friday, Cook County Assistant State’s attorney Eric Sussman said that his office would not seek a retrial based on the results from the DNA testing.

“The sun is shining. It’s a beautiful day. . . . It’s a great time to be free. It’s been a long time coming,” Fulton said following the hearing, according to the Chicago Tribune.

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