Elton Houston

Elton Houston was wrongfully convicted based on erroneous eyewitness testimony

Two men shot Ronnie Bell to death as he walked under a viaduct on the south side of Chicago in June 1983. Witnesses told police the triggermen fled in a brown and white car driven by a third man. One of the witnesses identified Elton Houston as the getaway driver and Robert Brown as one of the gunmen. Based on those identifications, Houston and Brown were convicted in 1984, Houston at a jury trial, Brown at a bench trial. Judge Stephan C. Schiller presided over both trials and sentenced Houston and Brown each to 35 years in prison.

In 1985, a prisoner cooperating in a federal investigation of the El Rukn street gang identified the three men who actually committed the crime. Cook County prosecutors failed to act on that information, and the Illinois Appellate Court proceeded to affirm the convictions.

Houston and Brown were not exonerated and released until 1989, after two of the men identified by the cooperating witness confessed. Houston and Brown sued the prosecutors who illegally withheld the exculpatory information for four years. The prosecutors did not deny withholding the information, but claimed immunity from civil liability. The U.S. Court of Appeals disagreed, holding in 1992 that the suit could proceed. The city settled the case for $1.1 million in 1993.

— Rob Warden