Daniel Taylor at NU Law (Photo: Jennifer Linzer)
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 for more than two decades for a double murder to which he confessed as a teenager but could not have committed because he was in police custody for disorderly conduct when the murders occurred.
Taylor was 17 when he was arrested on December 3, 1992, and charged with the November 16 shooting deaths of Sharon Haugabook and Jeffrey Lassiter in their apartment near Clarendon Park on Chicago’s north side.
Two weeks after the murders, police arrested two teenagers on drug charges; they eventually confessed to participating in the murders and implicated Taylor and five others—all of whom confessed after police interrogation, each implicating the others. Well before indictments were filed, however, Taylor recalled that he had been in police custody at the time of the murders.
The murders occurred at 8:43 p.m. Police records confirmed that that Taylor had been arrested for disorderly conduct at 6:45 p.m. that evening and held in the 23rd District police lockup until 10:00 p.m.
Even though police records backed up Taylor’s alibi, prosecutors brought charges against him and the other seven individuals who confessed. Charges against two of them were dismissed before trial, and one was acquitted, but the other five, including Taylor, were convicted based on their dubious confessions.
At trial, the only evidence of Taylor’s guilt was his confession. His defense was that had been in a police lockup when the crime occurred—supported 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 police records were inaccurate and presented the testimony of a drug dealer and a police officer who claimed to have seen Taylor on the street during the time he claimed to have been in custody. The jury found Taylor guilty and he was sentenced to life in prison.
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 lockup with Taylor at the time of the murders; a previously unknown witness who saw the offenders leaving the murder scene and said that Taylor was not one of them; and a recantation by the drug dealer who claimed to have seen Taylor in a park that evening, when lockup records showed Taylor was in custody. Taylor, relying on the new evidence unearthed by the Tribune, filed a petition for post-conviction relief, but it was denied without a hearing.
Karen Daniel, a senior staff attorney at the Center on Wrongful Convictions since 2000 and now Co-Legal Director, then entered the case to pursue further appeals and a federal habeas petition.
In February 2012, the Illinois Attorney General’s Office disclosed in federal court that the State’s Attorney’s Office had failed to disclose important additional exculpatory evidence before Taylor’s trial.
The new evidence included previously undisclosed handwritten notes by Assistant State’s Attorney Dave Styler, who had interviewed several officers from the 23rd District prior to Taylor’s indictment, and 23rd District lockup custody records from the night of the murders that Taylor’s trial attorney had never seen. This evidence provided strong additional confirmation that Taylor had been in custody at the time of the crime.
Karen Daniel subsequently obtained a sworn statement from Michael Mitchell, who was the lockup keeper on duty at 10:00 p.m. on November 16, 1992, when Taylor was released from custody. 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 16 months after the latest exculpatory information was disclosed by the Attorney General’s Office—a representative from the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office appeared before Circuit Court Judge Jorge Luis Alonso on June 28, 2013, and dropped all charges against Taylor. He was released from prison later that day. On January 23, 2014, Taylor was granted a certificate of innocence by the Circuit Court of Cook County.
Taylor was the 90th person exonerated in Cook County since 1989, according to the National Registry of Exonerations, and the 34th identified as having been wrongfully convicted based on an unreliable confession.
On January 10, 2014, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office similarly dropped all charges against Taylor’s co-defendant, Deon Patrick, who also falsely confessed to the murders and who, like Taylor, had received a life sentence. Patrick likewise received a certificate of innocence on January 23, 2014.