Darrell Cameron

On consecutive days in 1991, four small businesses on the south side of Chicago were robbed by an African-American man who in each instance handed the victim a hand-written note demanding money. Although the victims described the robber as standing five-seven to five-eleven and weighing about 160 pounds, the police picked up Darrell Cameron, who was six-six and weighed nearly 250 pounds. Despite Cameron's dissimilarity to the man the victims had described, all of them identified him in police lineups.

Cameron was charged with all four crimes, but prosecutors decided to try him initially for just one. A jury found him guilty in that case, based solely on the victim's identification. While sentencing was pending, a man named Charles Bell was convicted of a series of strikingly similar robberies in the same area of the city. In a prison interview with Cameron's lawyer, Tommy Brewer, Bell admitted that he had committed all of the robberies with which Cameron had been charged. After a state police handwriting analyst determined that Bell had written the notes used in the robberies, the trial judge vacated Cameron's conviction and entered a judgment of acquittal, over the objection of prosecutors.

Through discovery in the still-pending cases against Cameron, Brewer learned that Bell had confessed to all of the crimes, in the presence of an assistant state's attorney, months earlier. Although prosecutors had a legal obligation to disclose that information prior to trial, it had been withheld.

Undaunted by the belated disclosure of the exculpatory evidence, prosecutors advanced a new theory — that the two men had committed the crimes together — and brought Cameron to trial in one of the remaining cases. Cameron waived a jury and was acquitted by a judge, who chastised the prosecutors for persisting against a man whose innocence seemed beyond doubt. The unapologetic prosecutors then dropped the two remaining charges against Cameron.

— Rob Warden