Anthony Dansberry

Anthony Dansberry coming home from prison

Anthony Dansberry coming home from prison

A Man Who Could Not Read Says He
Was Tricked Into Signing a Confession

Events of December 1991: Two Tragedies

On December 19, 1991, 77-year-old Edna Abel of River Forest, IL, was the victim of a purse snatching. The offender knocked her to the ground and she later died from her injuries. On December 27, based on “an anonymous tip,” police took Anthony, then age 27, into custody for questioning.  Anthony says he was told he could leave after he signed a “release form,” and he even called his aunt to come pick him up. The “release form” was actually a confession, and Anthony was placed behind bars, where he remained for 23 years. The State’s Attorney sought the death penalty.

The 35-Minute “Confession”

Police officers questioned Anthony for only 35 minutes. He says he told them he knew nothing about the crime and steadfastly maintained his innocence. Anthony had a verbal IQ of 58 and was described as a “non-reader” by his high school special education teachers. Anthony had no prior criminal convictions, no history of violence, and nothing to hide. When police handed him paperwork to sign, he obliged, even though he could not read it.

There were problems with the “confession” that the jury never heard:

  • It contained “facts” inconsistent with the crime.
  • It contained words not in Anthony’s limited vocabulary.
  • It was not documented by audio or video recording, even though police knew Anthony could not read.

A Botched Lineup: Witness Claims Police Pointed Out Who to Pick 

Four witnesses – all of whom were white – viewed a lineup of black men. One witness picked someone other than Anthony from the lineup, two witnesses picked no one, and a fourth witness picked Anthony. That witness was the only one who saw Anthony's picture in a photo array prior to the lineup.

One witness, a retired school teacher, said police actually pointed at Anthony in the lineup and asked, “Are you sure he’s not the one?”

Fingerprints Don’t Match Anthony Dansberry

The man who attacked Edna Abel ran off with her purse but was briefly chased by a woman driving a car. Before he got away, the man collided hands-first with the car. Prints lifted from the car were not Anthony's.

During the chase, the man dropped the stolen purse, but police did not process it for prints. By the time a court granted a request many years later to conduct fingerprint testing on the purse, it was too late: the testing yielded no results.

Governor Pat Quinn Commutes Dansberry's Sentence

The jury did not hear about the improper lineup or problems with the “confession.” Anthony was convicted of murder in 1996 and sentenced to 75 years in prison. Over the years, he exhausted his appeals in court.

In 2010, the Center on Wrongful Convictions filed a clemency petition on Anthony's behalf, seeking his freedom. On January 12, 2015, moments before leaving office, Governor Pat Quinn commuted Dansberry's sentence to time served. After 23 years, Anthony Dansberry was free at last. Sadly, Anthony's lead attorney, Jane Raley, passed away on Christmas Day in 2014. Anthony and his family believe, however, that Jane was smiling down on him from above as he walked out of prison.


Jane Raley, Margaret Soffin, and Susan Swanson discuss the case on The Barber Shop radio show (April 11, 2014)

"Tricked Into Confessing" YouTube video

Chris Benson reflects on Anthony's release in a Chicago Reporter story

Anthony's final Christmas in prison: another Chicago story

Welcome home cake