Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth

Through outreach, advocacy, education, and litigation, the Center on Wrongful Conviction of Youth (CWCY) seeks to implement policies and practices that will ensure that the evidence used against youth is reliable. More...

CWCY Spotlight

Dan Andersen’s Convictions Vacated After 35 Years!

On July 20, 2015, Judge Alfredo Maldonado of Cook County vacated CWCY client Daniel Andersen’s 1982 murder and attempted rape convictions.  19-year-old Dan Andersen was arrested on January 24, 1980, for the murder and attempted rape of 20-year-old Cathy Trunko, a friend from Chicago’s Back of the Yards neighborhood who had been found stabbed to death five days earlier.  Police believed a bloody knife found two days after her stabbing in a neighbor’s yard was the murder weapon.  Dan was 19, sleep deprived, and very drunk when he confessed to killing Ms. Trunko with this bloody knife after sixteen hours of police interrogation. 

At trial, prosecutors said the blood type on the knife matched Ms. Trunko’s and argued that Dan’s confession to killing Ms. Trunko with that very knife proved his guilt.  He was convicted by a jury and sentenced to 55 years in prison. 

But in 2012, three decades later, DNA testing proved Dan’s innocence.  New DNA testing on the knife showed that neither Ms. Trunko’s blood nor Dan’s DNA was on the knife, proving it was not the murder weapon after all.  As Judge Maldonado concluded, “the knife was the lynchpin of the State’s case against” Dan; without it, there is absolutely no physical evidence linking Dan to this crime. 

What’s more, additional DNA testing of Ms. Trunko’s fingernail clippings revealed two male profiles – both of which excluded Dan Andersen.  This fingernail DNA evidence is truly exculpatory evidence because the evidence indicates that Ms. Trunko defended herself against her attacker and that at least one, if not both, of these DNA profiles belong to her assailant(s).

Judge Maldonado called this DNA evidence “extraordinarily compelling” and concluded that a jury would likely return a different result if the case were retried today. 

Dan, now 54 years old, served 27.5 years before his release in April of 2007.  While Dan has been “free” for over eight years, he has struggled to rebuild his life due to his convictions and status as a registered sex offender.  Despite his struggles, Dan has remained positive and focused on clearing his name, which he has finally achieved with this ruling. 

Dan has been a client of the CWCY since 2012 and has been represented by Steve Drizin, Josh Tepfer, Laura Nirider, and Megan Crane, along with a persistent and thoughtful group of Northwestern Law students: Weston Sager (JD 2015), Amanda Toy (JD 2015), Leidy Valencia (JD 2015), Lin Zhu (JD 2015), Abby Parr (JD 2014), Elena Garcia (JD 2014), Kathleen Garvey (JD 2013), and Adam Kirshner (JD 2013), and Rebeca Stephens (JD 2013), among others.

You can read more about the case in the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Sun Times, and in our press release.  You can also read Judge Maldonado’s order vacating Dan’s conviction.