Meet the Exonerees

Rolando Cruz

State: Illinois
Date of Birth:
Incident Date: 02/23/1983
Age at Arrest: 17
Conviction Date: 05/15/1985
Age When Exonerated: 29
Exonerated Date: 11/03/1995
Time Served: 12
Conviction: Murder, intent to kill, criminal sexual assault, aggravated kidnaping, residential burglary, deviate sexual assault
False Confession: No
Implicated by Another Youth: Yes

Case Details

In 1985, nineteen-year-old Rolando Cruz and his codefendant, Alejandro Hernandez, were wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death for kidnapping, raping, and murdering nine-year-old Jeanine Nicarico two years earlier. Cruz became a person of interest when Hernandez implicated him in exchange for a monetary reward. They continued to implicate each other, as well as Stephen Buckley, who was never convicted. Although there was no physical evidence linking them to the scene of the crime, both were convicted based on snitch testimony from prisoners, and the testimony of officers that Cruz revealed details through “dream visions” and other incriminating statements that only the real murderer would know. Soon after the trial, a serial rapist and murderer, Brian Dugan, confessed to the crime, but prosecutors refused to free Cruz. After two appeals, three trials, and nearly twelve years on death row, Cruz was acquitted in 1995. Along with Dugan’s confession, new DNA evidence proved that neither Cruz nor Hernandez could have committed the crime, and the lieutenant who testified about Cruz’s “dream visions” admitted he was lying. Cruz’s ordeal resulted in four sheriff’s deputies and three former prosecutors being indicted for perjury and obstruction of justice, although they were all acquitted. Cruz was pardoned by Illinois Governor George H. Ryan in 2002.