Convicts Cleared with DNA EvidencePublished: Oct 14, 2016, by in Constitutional Rights, Criminal Defense, Legal Blog
People who have been wrongly convicted of crimes in Cook County now have hope. The State’s Attorney Office, whose primary purpose is to put offenders behind bars, has proven instrumental in helping people obtain their release from prison after wrongful convictions. Once notorious for its brutal police force and ruthless prosecutors, Cook County seems to be on course for setting the standard for prosecutorial integrity.
In 2012, Cook County prosecutor Anita Alvarez created the Conviction Integrity Unit. Its purpose is to review and re-investigate criminal cases in which the convict continues to claim his or her innocence and new evidence has come to light. Since its inception, the Cook County State Attorney’s Office Conviction Integrity Unit has facilitated the reversal of 15 convictions so far.
Why would the prosecutor’s office assist in seeking the freedom of people behind bars? According to Attorney Alvarez: “In my view, my job is not just about racking up convictions, it’s about always seeking justice, even if that measure of justice means that we must acknowledge mistakes of the past.”
Cook County Prosecutors Are Helping The Wrongly Convicted
In September of this year, a Cook County Judge vacated the conviction of Mark Maxson, an innocent man who spent nearly 25 years behind bars for the murder and rape of a 6-year-old boy. This case illustrates how important the Conviction Integrity Unit’s work has proven to be.
In 1992, the authorities discovered a gruesome scene on the 10700 block of South State Street: the mangled body of a child lying under a pile of trash in an abandoned garage. Maxson became a suspect after he told a TV reporter that he had bought the child a bag of potato chips before telling him to go home–yet another reason to never make a statement about an ongoing criminal investigation.
Two days later, Maxson had confessed to getting drunk, smoking crack, and then dragging the victim to the abandoned garage where he raped and murdered him. This confession was unsigned. All of the available forensic evidence found at the scene, including a pubic hair, blood, and fingerprints, ruled Maxson out as the killer. Nonetheless, the prosecutor moved forward with the case against Maxson and was able to convince a jury that he was responsible.
Cook County Authorities Address Their Troubled Past
Why did Maxson change his story and confess to the sexual assault and murder of a child? The answer lies in the brutal interrogation techniques that Chicago law enforcement use against criminal suspects. The detectives who questioned Maxson allegedly locked him in a room for two days and deprived him of sleep. These detectives had been trained by Commander Jon Burge, who was fired for encouraging the torture of criminal suspects.
Terrified and pushed to his physical limits, Maxson confessed to a crime he did not commit. At his initial hearing, he pled not guilty and maintained that he was innocent throughout the trial. After the jury convicted him on the basis of his unsigned confession alone, the judge sentenced him to life plus 50 years in prison, stating: “You are a man of malignant heart and I find you must be eliminated from society.”
Knowing the importance of mounting a strong criminal defense strategy, Maxson’s legal team was able to challenge his conviction by requesting a judge to order the reopening of the case. Once the judge accepted their request, the Cook County Conviction Integrity Unit expedited the DNA testing of the murder evidence. As expected, the DNA showed that Maxson could not possibly have been the murdered. In fact, the DNA evidence pointed to another man–a convicted murderer–who lived a few blocks from the crime scene.
Chicago’s O’Meara Law Is Here To Help
The ability for the authorities to recognize and address their past mistakes is a step forward. But it does not rule out that mistakes are being made today. For this reason, you should always seek the counsel of an experienced Chicago criminal defense attorney when you are facing criminal charges.
At O’Meara Law, we’ve built our reputation on our ability to fight for the rights of our clients. If you’ve been charged with a crime, call Michael O’Meara today at 312-909-0706 for a free and confidential consultation of your case.