The Englewood Four finally had something to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. On Wednesday, November 16, a Cook County (IL) judge overturned the convictions of the four African American men – Vincent Thames, Terrill Swift, Harold Richardson and Michael Saunders – who were convicted of raping and murdering a prostitute as teenagers in 1995. Their convictions were largely the result of false confessions, and advanced DNA testing revealed last May that the real perpetrator was a man that police had interviewed at the crime scene.
Johnny Douglas was interviewed by police at the time of the murder because he lived in the neighborhood where the body of Nina Glover was found. Douglas, however, was soon let go after he denied knowing the victim. When he was later linked to the murder through DNA, it was discovered that Douglas had a rap sheet containing 38 convictions, including for murder and sexual assault. In 2008, he was shot to death.
And it turns out that Douglas was not the only one with a rap sheet. According to the Huffington Post, Detective James Cassidy, who always maintained that the four teenagers voluntarily confessed to the crime, had a history of taking false confessions. In 1994, he took a confession from an 11-year-old African American boy who was eventually convicted of murder, but a federal judge concluded that the confession was coerced and threw out the conviction. Additionally, in 1998, Cassidy took confessions from two African American boys, ages seven and eight, but these charges were later dropped after new evidence was discovered in the case.
According to the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University, of the 76 wrongful convictions in Cook County that have been uncovered through DNA testing, 25 were the result of suspects admitting to crimes they did not commit. Even more disturbing is that despite these numbers, State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez vehemently opposed the release of the Englewood Four, stating that DNA testing is not always the ‘silver bullet’ it appears to be. Unfortunately, Alvarez’s attitude towards the men is not unique among other wrongful conviction cases. Reluctance to admit mistakes is a common trait among police and prosecutors involved in other miscarriages of justice.
By continuing to cover up mistakes, even with strong evidence of innocence, members of law enforcement are seriously undermining the administration of justice in our criminal ‘justice’ system. Each day that a prosecutor fights against the release of a clearly innocent individual is another day that the actual perpetrator could be walking free. It is time for our elected officials to start doing the right thing, and we as constituents must hold them accountable for failing to do so.
December 7 – We reached out to Laura Nirider, Staff Attorney at Northwestern University”s Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth, to get her thoughts on this post and the case of the Englewood Four. She said:
“The only responsible position for Cook County State’s Attorney Alvarez to take is to drop all charges against the Englewood Four and give them a long-overdue opportunity to reconstruct their lives. As a prosecutor who is ethically bound to do justice, State’s Attorney Alvarez must acknowledge and rectify the previous administration’s mistakes, rather than struggling to explain away the DNA. Thanks to Andrew Martin’s recent article in the New York Times Magazine, we’ve seen that the public has reacted with horror to the attempts of prosecutors in Lake County, Illinois (Cook County’s neighbor to the north) to ignore exonerating post-conviction DNA evidence in other cases. The same reaction would be warranted if Cook County State’s Attorney Alvarez decides to retry the Englewood Four despite the fact that DNA proves their innocence.”