He confessed to a crime it was physically impossible for him to have committed
Before his exoneration on June 28, 2013, Daniel Taylor, a client of the Center on Wrongful Convictions, languished behind bars more than two decades for a murder to which he confessed but could not have committed because he was in police custody for disorderly conduct when it occurred.
Taylor was 17 when he was arrested in December 1992 with six other young men and charged with the shooting deaths the previous November 16 of Sharon Haugabook and Jeffrey Lassiter in their apartment near Clarendon Park on Chicago’s north side.
The crime occurred at 8:43 p.m. — when Taylor was in police custody. Police records showed that that he had been arrested at 6:45 p.m. and held in the 23rd District police lockup until 10 p.m.
Two weeks after the murders, police arrested two youths who confessed to participating in the crime and implicated Taylor and six others—all of whom proceeded to confess under police interrogation, each implicating the others. Before charges were filed, however, Taylor discovered that he had been in custody when the crime occurred.
Even though police records backed up Taylor’s claim, prosecutors nonetheless brought charges against him and the other seven young men. Charges against two of those were dismissed before trial, and one other was acquitted, but the other five, including Taylor, were convicted based largely on their dubious confessions.
Taylor was tried jointly with one co-defendant, Dennis Mixon, but by a separate jury. The only evidence against Taylor was his confession, which he had given first to police and then repeated before Assistant State’s Attorney Joe Magats and a court reporter. His defense was that had been in jail when the crime occurred—as indicated by the testimony of the officer in charge of the lockup and the officer who made the disorderly conduct arrest.
The prosecution contended that the records were inaccurate and that the officers were mistaken, presenting the testimony of another officer who claimed to have seen Taylor on the street during the time he claimed to have been in custody. Both juries returned verdicts of guilty, and Taylor and Mixon were sentenced to life in prison. Their convictions, and those of the other three convicted defendants, were affirmed on appeal.
In 2001, the Chicago Tribune investigated the case, and found new evidence corroborating Taylor’s claim that he had been in police custody when the crime occurred. The new evidence included an interview with a man who had been in the same lockup at the time. The State’s Attorney’ Office claimed to have reinvestigated the case and found no merit in the additional evidence, although the Tribune found that the office’s investigators had interviewed neither the detectives who took the initial confession nor Joe Magats, the prosecutor who took the court-reported version. Taylor, relying on the new evidence unearthed by the Tribune, filed a petition for post-conviction relief, but it was denied.
Karen Daniel, a senior staff attorney at the Center on Wrongful Convictions in 2001 and now Co-Legal Director, then entered the case to pursue further appeals.
In February 2012, the Illinois Attorney General’s Office disclosed in federal court that the State’s Attorney’s Office had improperly withheld important additional exculpatory information from defense lawyers prior to Taylor’s trial.
The most significant information was previously undisclosed handwritten notes by Assistant State’s Attorney Dave Styler, who had interviewed officers from the 23th District prior to Taylor’s trial and confirmed that he had been in custody at the time to the crime.
Karen Daniel subsequently obtained a sworn statement from Michael Mitchell, who was the lockup keeper on duty at 10 p.m. on November 16, 1992, when Taylor was released. Mitchell said it was “not possible” that Taylor could have been released earlier. “For this to have happened,” according to Mitchell, “numerous personnel from two separate watches would have had to conspire and work together to cover it up, and the conspiracy would have included desk –personnel, lockup keepers, and watch commanders from two different shifts.”
Finally—some 17 months after the latest exculpatory information was released by the Attorney General’s Office—Assistant Cook County State’s Attorney Celeste Stack appeared before Circuit Court Judge Jorge Luis Alonso to drop the charges in June 2013.
Taylor’s exoneration was the 90th in Cook County since 1989, according to the National Registry of Exonerations. He was the 34th known to have been wrongfully convicted based on an unreliable confession.