This month, four men from the Chicago area, dubbed the Englewood Four, were exonerated for the 1994 murder and rape of a sex worker after the State’s Attorney’s Office announced that it was dismissing the indictments against them. Their convictions were overturned after new DNA evidence implicated another man with a long history of murdering and assaulting sex workers.
Michael Saunders, Harold Richardson, Terrill Swift, and Vincent Thames, who were all between fifteen and eighteen years old at the time of their convictions, and Jerry Fincher, eighteen, were charged with the November 1994 strangulation murder and rape of Nina Glover, a sex worker, in the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago. In mid-March 1995, after all leads in the case had dried up, police claim that Fincher walked into the precinct to voluntarily provide information about Glover’s murder to help gain “some consideration” for a friend of his who was in custody on a drug charge. According to the police, after two days of interrogation, Fincher confessed to the murder, also implicating Saunders, Richardson, Swift, and Thames. Police arrested and interrogated the other four, securing confessions, which were wildly inconsistent with each other. Despite the fact that all five supposedly admitted to having sexual intercourse with the victim, pre-trial DNA testing on semen recovered from the victim matched an unknown male and excluded all five teenagers. Rather than continue with the investigation to identify the source of the semen, however, the state went forward with the prosecution of the five young men.
The judge in Fincher’s case ruled that his statement was coerced and therefore inadmissible. Since there was no other evidence linking Fincher to the crime, prosecutors were forced to dismiss the charges against him. Saunders, Richardson, and Swift were all convicted at trial based on the strength of their so-called confessions and were sentenced to at least 30 years in prison. After seeing his three co-defendants lose at trial, Thames pled guilty and was sentenced to 30 years in prison.
Josh Tepfer of the Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth, commented, “Tragically, today’s exonerations follow on the heels of the exonerations of four Dixmoor men and Juan Rivera in Lake County, all of which involved police induced false confessions of teenagers. Let’s hope the damage these prosecutions have caused has finally forced the State’s Attorney’s Office to recognize that it can no longer ignore this problem. Let’s also hope that the law enforcement will finally learn that aggressive interrogation tactics used against children too often result in false confessions.”
Stuart Chanen, a former prosecutor who now works on exoneration cases at the Valorem Law Group, asked, “How many false confession cases are we going to have to see before the state decides to do something about this epidemic? Not only did these men spend years behind bars for a crime they didn’t commit, but while they were locked up, the real perpetrator was out murdering and terrorizing other women.”
With files from the Innocence Project.