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DNA vs. Confessions

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Chicago, IL

“I’ve been waiting on justice for 17 years, and I’m still waiting,” said Terrill Swift as he was reunited with his family members after a hearing on whether his conviction for a 1994 rape and murder should be overturned. Swift and three others–Michael Saunders, Harold Richardson and Vincent Thames– are holding on to hopes that new DNA evidence will clear them of the rape and murder of 30-year-old Nina Glover of Chicago. All four men originally confessed to the murder.

According to Joshua Tepfer, an attorney at Northwestern University’s Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth, a recent DNA test has linked a man named, Johnny Douglas, to Glover’s murder and not the four men that were convicted. Douglas was shot and killed in 2008. Douglas had previously been convicted of murdering a woman, acquitted of a second homicide and was a suspect in other murders and sexual assaults.

Additionally, Tepfer argued that there was no semen evidence that linked the four convicted defendants to Glover’s murder. Swift, Saunders, Richardson and Thames were all teens at the time of the murder. The men’s ages at the time of the murder could have made them susceptible to coercion during questioning, even if it was not intentional. Tepfer argued that, regardless of the confession, if the judge knew that the DNA that was on Glover’s body was linked to Douglas, the trial would have ended differently.

Assistant State’s Attorney Mark Ertler said that the evidence presented by Tepfer was “not significant enough to merit new trials.” Ertler contended that the DNA wasn’t necessarily left on Glover at the time of her murder. Ertler also argued that if Douglas was, in fact, the one that killed Glover, he would not have been at the scene when the body was found.

Ertler also pointed out that Swift led police to a lagoon where they found a shovel they believed was used to strike Glover, in addition to a mop that may have been used to clean the crime scene, Ertler said.

Throughout the hearing, Presiding Judge Paul Biebel, Jr. was perplexed over the confessions of the four men to the crime. He requested evidence that the confession were coerced. Counsel for the four men said that Douglas’ DNA proves that their clients’ confessions were false. They noted that the confessions even differed on key details.

Biebel said that he would make a ruling next month on the case.

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