Melvin Bentley

Police-coerced perjury led to Melvin Bentley's conviction for a murder he did not commit

Melvin Bentley was convicted in 1992 of murdering Leonard Jamison during an exchange of gunfire in the parking lot of a tavern that basically functioned as an open-air market for heroin and crack cocaine directly across the street from the Ford Heights police station.

Two eyewitnesses — Leroy Stephenson, a cousin of the victim, and Daniel Washington, who had just walked out of the tavern after buying potato chips — positively identified Bentley, but eventually recanted. In sworn statements obtained by the Cook County Public Defender's Office, they stated that they had been told to falsely implicate Bentley by the lead investigator in the case, who in the interim had been convicted of bribery and sent to federal prison.

Alternative suspect ignored

Washington, who was 15 at the time of the 1990 shooting, said he initially told police that the man who killed Jamison was wounded in the hand during the exchange of gunfire with Jamison. Bentley had no hand wound, but an alternative suspect whom the police failed to investigate did. That suspect was Gacy Hadden, who later was convicted of an unrelated murder for which he is currently is serving a 90-year sentence. Bentley's attorneys had alleged that prosecutors, as well as police, were aware of Washington's statement before Bentley's trial, but concealed that fact.

In 2000, the Cook County State's Attorney's Office offered to release Bentley if he would agree to drop his efforts to obtain a new trial. Although Bentley was likely to prevail in court, that could have taken months or years, during which he likely would have had to remain in custody. Bentley, who had unequivocally insisted from the beginning that he was innocent, accepted the proposal and walked out of prison.  — Center on Wrongful Convictions