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Preventing Wrongful Convictions

NCJ Number
Judicature Volume: 86 Issue: 2 Dated: September-October 2002 Pages: 106-109,120
Thomas P. Sullivan
Date Published
September 2002
5 pages
Implementing the recommendations of the Illinois Governor's Commission on Capital Punishment will provide significant safeguards against further wrongful conviction in both capital and non-capital cases; this article explores the application of the commission's recommendations to non-capital cases.
The discussion begins by considering issues in Illinois' so-called Ford Heights Four case, which involved a brutal multiple rape and double murder in 1978 in a suburb of Chicago. Four young African-American men were arrested within a few days of the crimes. An eyewitness identified them as being near the scene at about the time of the crimes. The four were prosecuted for murder and rape. Two of the four were sentenced to death, and the other two and a woman accomplice were given long prison sentences. After multiple appeals and several retrials, the convictions and sentences were affirmed by the reviewing courts. Years later, a Northwestern University journalism professor and several students undertook an investigation of the two death cases, which eventually led to the release of all four men from prison after serving a total of more than 60 years in jail. The two mistaken death sentences were among the 13 that moved Governor George Ryan to impose a moratorium on executions in Illinois. This article notes that apart from the attention this case received because of the involvement of the death penalty, the four men would probably still be incarcerated. This makes clear the importance of having effective review procedures for all felony cases. The Governor's Commission made a number of recommendations regarding the police function, which apply with equal force to investigations of capital and non-capital cases. These recommendations are outlined in the article. There are also recommendations for pretrial proceedings; the trial and post-trial; and training for police, trial judges, and trial lawyers in specified areas. Overall, this article recommends that the attention to and protections against conviction of the innocent adopted for capital cases be implemented as well in all felony cases throughout the country. 6 notes


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