Joseph Burrows

Joseph Burrows (Photo: Loren Santow)

Joseph Burrows (Photo: Loren Santow)

Perjured testimony by the actual killer put Joseph Burrows on death row

Joseph Burrows was sentenced to death for the murder of William Dulan, an 88-year-old retired farmer, whose body was found on Nov. 8, 1988, at his Iroquois County home southeast of Kankakee. Six hours after the murder, a man named Chuck Gullion attempted to cash a $4,050 check in Dulan's name at the Iroquois Farmer's State Bank. Bank employees already had heard of the murder and called police. Gullion was arrested minutes later in a car with 32-year-old Gayle Potter, a cocaine addict. Potter admitted forging the check, taking part in the crime, and implicated two others — Burrows, 32, whom she claimed had been the triggerman, and Ralph Frye, 22, a mildly retarded friend of Burrows.

During a struggle with the victim, Potter had suffered a gash to her head. Her blood was found at the scene. The murder weapon, moreover, belonged to her. No physical evidence linked either Burrows or Frye to the crime, and four witnesses placed Burrows 60 miles away at the time of the crime. After a lengthy interrogation, however, Frye corroborated Potter's version of events. He and Potter agreed to plead guilty in exchange for leniency and to testify against Burrows. Frye, who had an IQ of 75, was sentenced to 23 years in prison and Potter to 30 years. Gullion was not prosecuted.

Burrows was tried twice. The first trial ended in a hung jury, but he was convicted at the second trial and sentenced to death. After the Illinois Supreme Court affirmed his conviction and death sentence in 1992, Frye recanted his testimony to Peter Rooney, a reporter for the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette, claiming that police had coerced him into falsely confessing and implicating Burrows.

After Rooney's story appeared, Burrows's lawyers, Kathleen Zellner and Michael Hemstreet, discovered a letter Potter had written asking a friend to falsely testify that he had seen her in a blue pickup truck that she claimed Burrows had driven to and from the crime scene. Confronted with the letter, Potter admitted that she had falsely accused Burrows and Frye to minimize her own culpability and because she thought, mistakenly, that Burrows had burglarized her trailer.

Potter admitted that she alone had killed the elderly victim in an attempted robbery to obtain drug money. After a hearing at which Frye and Potter testified, Burrows won a new trial. The prosecution unsuccessfully appealed and eventually dropped the charges. Burrows was released on September 8, 1994. He filed a civil rights suit, which was settled for $100,000, a small fraction of what comparable cases would be settled for in the years ahead. In 2005, Burrows was convicted of possession of chemicals he allegedly used in the manufacture of methamphetamine and sentenced to six years in prison. With day-for-day good time, he was released in 2008. On Oct. 15, 2009, fifteen years after his release from Death Row, Burrows died at age fifty-six.

Case Summary (pdf)

— Rob Warden