John Horton

John Horton, a client of the Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth (CWCY), was exonerated on October 4, 2017, after serving more than twenty-three years in prison. The prosecution dropped all charges relating to a 1993 murder and armed robbery, announcing: “I do not have a reasonable belief this charge can be sustained beyond a reasonable doubt.”

In 1993, seventeen-year-old John falsely confessed to an armed robbery and murder that occurred at a McDonald’s restaurant on Charles Street in Rockford, Illinois. His cousin later admitted that he committed the crime without John’s involvement and provided a detailed and corroborated account of the crime. John’s false confession demonstrates the harmful consequences of questioning teenagers as if they were adults.

John was represented in post-conviction proceedings by CWCY attorneys Steve Drizin and Josh Tepfer (who later moved to the Exoneration Project), Bluhm Legal Clinic attorneys Alison Flaum and Jeffrey Urdangen, and many dedicated Northwestern law students. During their investigation, they discovered that the State had withheld impeaching information about a witness who falsely testified at John’s trial that John had admitted committing the crime. The CWCY team prepared a successive post-conviction petition on John’s behalf in 2013, but a Winnebago County judge denied John leave to file it. In October 2016, the Appellate Court of Illinois, Second District, not only overruled the post-conviction judge, but went several steps further and granted John a new trial based on Brady violations (the prosecution’s withholding of exculpatory evidence). Nearly a year later, the prosecution dropped all charges rather than retry him.