May 07, 2012
The Chicago Tribune
Criminal justice: Was alibi ignored in '92 double murder?
By: Steve Mills
In 2002, Cook County prosecutors undertook what then was a most unusual inquiry: the reinvestigation of a double-murder case that sent five young men to prison, even though one of them had records showing he was in a Chicago police lockup when the crime occurred.
About a year later, in March 2003, the office of then-State's Attorney Richard Devine announced that it was satisfied the convictions were sound in spite of a Tribune investigation that had uncovered new evidence suggesting that the young man, Daniel Taylor, was innocent.
Nearly a decade later, reports from that investigation — obtained by the Tribune from sources after State's Attorney Anita Alvarez's office refused to make them available to the newspaper — raise questions about how the investigation was done and whether it was evenhanded.
According to the reports, investigators and on some occasions prosecutors working under Devine interviewed the five men who were convicted and three other men who were arrested, some of them twice and one of them three times, plus some civilian witnesses linked to the case.
But investigators interviewed only one of the officers involved in the original investigation — and, according to the reports, none of the officers who provided Taylor with his seemingly ironclad alibi. The investigators also did not question the detectives or prosecutors involved in taking the disputed confessions, according to the reports.
What's more, prosecutors announced they were certain Taylor was guilty after they had completed fewer than two-thirds of the interviews they ultimately conducted and before they spoke with Taylor or with a man identified as the real killer by the one defendant who admits he was at the crime scene.
The nearly 100 pages of reports suggest that Devine's office put effort into finding evidence to support the conviction but little into investigating Taylor's claim of innocence. The state's attorney's investigators sought out girlfriends of several of the suspects, an indication they were seeking incriminating evidence. They also obtained pages and pages of CTA bus schedules; one former state's attorney's investigator who worked on the case said he had tried to determine if Taylor could have ridden a bus to the scene of the crime.
In spite of all that, the suspects continued to assert their innocence. No one implicates Taylor, who is serving a sentence of life without parole, or any of the suspects save the one who admitted a role in the double murders, Dennis Mixon.
"I just don't see how the state's attorney's office can truly say they reinvestigated Daniel's case, or reached any conclusions about his guilt or innocence, without going back and interviewing the police lockup officers who had him in custody at the time of the murder," said Karen Daniel, who is Taylor's lawyer and an attorney at Northwestern University's Center on Wrongful Convictions. "They didn't do that. The ironic thing is that despite avoiding some of the most important witnesses, their reinvestigation failed to turn up any evidence of Daniel's guilt and in fact provided additional support of his innocence."
Alvarez's office, which did not handle the investigation but now is defending the conviction in state court — Alvarez succeeded Devine — declined to comment on the Taylor reinvestigation. The Illinois attorney general's office is handling the appeal as it moves through federal court.
Devine, who now is in private practice, did not review the reports from the reinvestigation but said he spoke with one person currently in the state's attorney's office and one person who used to be in the office to refresh his recollection of the case. He said he "can't imagine" that prosecutors and investigators did not interview the officers who supported Taylor's alibi — although no reports indicate that such interviews were conducted. One of the investigators who worked on the reinvestigation, Ron Armata, said they would have documented any interview they conducted.
Devine said he never would have ordered an investigation that was not meant to be fair to Taylor or the other men convicted.
"This was meant to be a full investigation, and it's not my sense that anyone was playing games with it," said Devine, who added that the investigators also followed any leads provided by Taylor's attorney at the time, Kathleen Zellner. "There was never any ambition to circumvent this."
Zellner said she provided leads to the prosecutors but also expected that they would investigate Taylor's alibi as part of their inquiry.
"Of course, I thought they would look at everything," she said.
Taylor, then 17, and seven other young men were arrested and charged with murder in the November 1992 shooting deaths of Sharon Haugabook and Jeffrey Lassiter in an apartment near Clarendon Park on Chicago's North Side. According to police and prosecutors, four of the suspects went into the apartment and took part in the slayings while the other four stood outside as lookouts. All eight, police said, confessed and implicated each other.
After he was charged, Taylor remembered that he had been arrested the night of the slayings. And, in fact, police reports and records at the now-shuttered Town Hall police precinct showed Taylor was arrested for disorderly conduct about two hours before the 8:45 p.m. slayings and not released until close to 10 p.m.
The Tribune investigated the case as part of its December 2001 series "Cops and Confessions" and uncovered additional evidence of Taylor's innocence. That prompted Devine to launch the reinvestigation of the case, which he had said would be a fair search for evidence.
Since then, the Taylor case has continued to work its way through the criminal justice system. Most recently, it drew notice from the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which noted Taylor's powerful claim of innocence and questioned his confession in granting him an unusual new hearing.
As the Tribune reported in early April, the Illinois attorney general's office also has opened an in-depth examination of the Taylor case. In refusing to release the reports after the Tribune filed a Freedom of Information Act request, Alvarez's office cited the attorney general's review. According to the reports, the investigation was supervised by prosecutors Alison Perona and Donald Lyman. Of 39 total interviews, 15 — or more than one-third of them — were conducted after prosecutors announced they were confident Taylor was guilty.
Perona, who is no longer a prosecutor, declined to comment. Lyman, who is still a prosecutor, also declined to comment.
The reinvestigation did not examine Taylor's alibi in spite of the fact that documents the attorney general's office believes were not turned over to the defense before Taylor's trial were in the prosecution's file and could have provided additional avenues of investigation.
That suggests prosecutors put more stock in Taylor's confession than the records and witnesses indicating he was in the lockup.
Devine said investigators from the state's attorney's office found nothing "against the weight of the evidence" that had convicted Taylor. What's more, he said prosecutors agreed to an evidentiary hearing, which Taylor lost, and that Taylor's case has been in court repeatedly.
"This thing has not been a behind-the-scenes deal," Devine said. "This has been before the courts on any number of occasions."
Daniel said it is clear to her that prosecutors had their minds made up before they launched the reinvestigation and did not make a good-faith effort to find evidence of Taylor's innocence. That, she said, was because they were wedded to his confession.
"This seems to be a case of confession tunnel vision," Daniel said. "They can't get beyond the fact that Daniel and some of his young friends confessed. ... In Daniel's case, the police records, the eyewitness accounts and newly disclosed information from the state's attorney's own files prove that the confessions were false."