Patrick McCaughn

Two women, one in Vernon Hills, the other in Lake Forest, were robbed at gunpoint of their wedding rings in 1996. Patrick McCaughn was charged with the crimes after both victims identified him from a police photo array.

After McGaughn’s arrest, three nearly identical robberies occurred in the same areas, but Lake County prosecutors nonetheless proceeded with the case against McCaughn. At his trial, his public defender argued that the post-arrest robberies created reasonable doubt about McCaughn’s guilt. The prosecution countered that those crimes could have been copycats, given that the first two crimes had been extensively publicized. The jury accepted the prosecution theory, finding McCaughn guilty.

At a hearing on a post-trial motion, however, the judge vacated the conviction and granted McCaughn a new trial, finding that the jury had considered tainted evidence. During deliberations, a juror had removed opaque tape from the bottom of McCaughn’s photo, revealing a prior arrest.

McCaughn waived a jury for his retrial, but was found guilty at a bench trial and sentenced to 12 years in prison. The conviction was reversed on appeal based on ineffective assistance of counsel. As McCaughn awaited his third trial, a man named John Zurawski, who had been arrested in Arizona, confessed that he had committed all five Lake County wedding ring robberies. After satisfying themselves of Zurawski’s veracity, prosecutors dismissed the charges against McCaughn.

— Rob Warden