Lionel Lane

Lionel Lane, 33, and three friends — Lester Slater, Corey Jenkins, and Michael Turner — were charged with the murder of Virginia Johannessen, a 74-year-old widow whose body was found on January 5, 1993, in her Aurora home.

The men were implicated in the crime by Lori Mohle, a drug-addicted former girlfriend of Lane. Mohle claimed that three days before Johannenssen’s body was found, Lane and his friends had given her and her children a ride to a grocery store. On the way back, they stopped near what she deduced a month or two later was Johannessen’s home. The men got out of the car, saying they would return shortly. She and the children stayed in the car. She did not see where the men went, but minutes later heard what might have been a gunshot. When the men did not return to the car promptly, she and the children took their groceries and walked home.

At the time, Mohle was living with Lane, who acted “jittery” when he came home that night. Mohle did not come forward until nearly a year later, after she had broken up with Lane. She had been living with her ex-husband until his recent arrest for residential burglary. In exchange for her cooperation, prosecutors entered into an agreement with the ex-husband under which he would plead guilty in exchange for a five-year sentence — rather than eight years previously offered.

The four men Mohle implicated were arrested on January 2, 1994 — the one-year anniversary of the murder. Lane’s co-defendants were tried together in 1994 and acquitted by a Kane County jury. But on February 7, 1995, a jury convicted Lane based on the testimony of Mohle and a jailhouse informant, Oscar Dorrise — a six-time loser with convictions for robbery, burglary, and weapons violations — who claimed that Lane had admitted killing “an older woman.” Judge James Doyle sentenced Lane to 60 years in prison. Three months later, Donald Lippert, 20, and Edward Tenney, 35, were arrested for the 1992 roadside killing of a 24-year-old Aurora man. Lippert confessed not only that he and Tenney had committed that murder but also that they had slain Johannessen and another woman in the same neighborhood. Based on Tenney’s confession, Kane County First Assistant State’s Attorney John Barsanti moved to vacate Lane’s conviction and dismiss the charges.

On May 28, 1995, Judge Doyle granted the motion, saying, “Every day, judges and juries have to weigh all the evidence and make decisions. It looks like we have a failure in the system.” Lippert pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against Tenney in exchange for an 80-year prison sentence. Tenney was tried twice and twice convicted. He was sentenced to death the first time, but the Illinois Supreme Court granted him a new trial in 2002 due to judicial error. He was convicted a second time in 2008 and sentenced to life in prison.

— Richard T. Griffin and Rob Warden