Dennis Williams (Photo: Loren Santow)
Police and prosecutorial misconduct put Dennis Williams on death row
In what became known as the Ford Heights Four case, Dennis Williams and Verneal Jimerson were sentenced to death for a 1978 double murder they did not commit. Two other innocent men, Willie Rainge and Kenneth Adams, also were convicted in the case and sentenced to prison for terms of life and 75 years, respectively.
In 1983, Rob Warden exposed serious problems with the case, but it took another 14 years to exonerate the innocent men. The exoneration came about as a result of monumental efforts by a legal team that included Lawrence C. Marshall and a student investigative team headed by Northwestern Professor David Protess.
By the time the men were freed, DNA had excluded all of the men. Moreover, the investigative team had uncovered evidence leading to the arrest of the actual killers, who eventually confessed, were convicted, and were sentenced to prison.
The miscarriage of justice resulted from coercion of one witness for the prosecution, perjury by another who had a financial incentive to lie, false forensic testimony, and police and prosecutorial misconduct.
The story of the Ford Heights Four is told in a book Rob Warden co-authored with Northwestern University Professor David Protess — A Promise of Justice, Hyperion (1998).
So egregious was the official misconduct that in 1999 Cook County settled lawsuits filed by the Ford Heights Four for $36 million — the largest civil rights payment in U.S. history.
Case Summary (pdf)