Ralph Frye

Ralph Frye falsely confessed to a crime he did not commit, putting himself in prison and Joseph Burrows on death row

Ralph Frye falsely confessed to the murder of William Dulan, an 88-year-old retired farmer whose body was found at his Iroquois County home southeast of Kankakee on November 8, 1988.

Six hours after the murder, a man named Chuck Gullion attempted to cash a $4,050 check in Dulan’s name at the Iroquois Farmer’s State Bank. Bank employees already had heard of the murder and called police. Gullion was arrested minutes later in a car with 32-year-old Gayle Potter, a cocaine addict. Potter admitted forging the check and taking part in the crime. She implicated two others — Frye, 22, and Joesph Burrows, 32, whom she claimed had been the triggerman.

During a struggle with the victim, Potter had suffered a gash to her head. Her blood was found at the scene. The murder weapon, moreover, belonged to her. No physical evidence linked either supposed accomplice to the crime and Burrows had a strong alibi; four witnesses placed him 60 miles away at the time of the crime. But, after a lengthy interrogation, Frye, who had an IQ of 76, corroborated Potter’s version of events. In exchange for leniency, he and Potter pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against Burrows. Frye was sentenced to 23 years and Potter to 30 years. Gullion was not charged.

Burrows was tried twice. The first trial ended in a mistrial, but he was convicted at the second trial and sentenced to death. After the Illinois Supreme Court affirmed his conviction and death sentence in 1992, Frye recanted his testimony to Peter Rooney, a reporter for the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette, claiming that police had coerced him into falsely confessing and implicating Burrows.

After Rooney’s story appeared, Burrows’s lawyers, Kathleen Zellner and Michael Hemstreet, discovered a letter Potter had written asking a friend to falsely testify that he had seen her in a blue pickup truck that she claimed Burrows had driven to and from the crime scene. Confronted with the letter, Potter admitted that she had falsely accused Frye and Burrows to minimize her own culpability and because she thought, mistakenly, that Burrows had burglarized her trailer. Potter said that she alone had killed the elderly victim in an attempted robbery to obtain drug money. After a hearing at which Frye and Potter testified, Burrows won a new trial. All charges against him and Frye were dropped in 1994.

For details see Joseph Burrows

— Rob Warden