November 14, 2012
Peoria Journal Star
Johnnie Lee Savory wants DNA testing to prove his innocence
By: Matt Buedel
Nearly 36 years after his arrest in a double-murder case, Johnnie Lee Savory is again looking to the court that twice convicted him for a chance to prove his claim of innocence.
Flanked by dozens of family members, supporters and attorneys, the man who spent 30 years in prison after being convicted of the murders of his friend, James Robinson, and Robinson's older sister, Connie Cooper, announced the filing of a motion Wednesday that seeks DNA testing of evidence in his case, even though he has been free from prison since December 2006.
"The truth is what matters - period," Savory said from a podium in the County Board room at the Peoria County Courthouse. "What happened in Peoria took my family away, as well as James and Connie from their family - and nobody was held to answer for that."
Savory was 14 years old when both teens were killed. His first conviction was overturned after an appeals court said his confession had been coerced. He was tried and convicted a second time based largely on the testimony of three witnesses.
Those people have now recanted, according to Savory and his team of attorneys from Northwestern University's Center on Wrongful Convictions. They point to those developments, as well as advances in DNA testing technology, in arguments for the retesting of five pieces of evidence from the case, which Savory has offered to fund.
"Today, and I can't emphasize this enough, it would be routine for the state to test all this evidence before ever proceeding with trial," said Laura Nirider, co-director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth. "We believe this should be tested in Johnnie's case to avoid and to neutralize this wrongful conviction."
The group specifically argues for DNA testing of blood found on a knife that prosecutors claimed was the murder weapon. The motion states the blood will not match either victim, but will instead match Savory's father, who used the knife soon before the slayings to remove stitches from his own leg.
Other requested DNA tests involve biological material purported to originate from the killer found on the victim's bodies as a result of a struggle before they died; a bloody light switch plate found in the bathroom where the killer was believed to have cleaned up before leaving the scene; and vaginal swabs taken from Cooper.
Savory spent nearly 30 years in prison before he was paroled by the Illinois Prisoner Review Board over objections of then-Peoria County State's Attorney Kevin Lyons. Gov. Pat Quinn in December 2011 commuted Savory's sentence, effectively ending his parole.
During the news conference Wednesday, speakers asked for the support of current Peoria County State's Attorney Jerry Brady. No one from his office attended the event.
"I'll review the motion and review the brief," Brady said later in the day. "We'll look it over and file an appropriate response."
A hearing date has not yet been scheduled.