Tabitha Pollock

Tabitha Pollock(Photo: Jennifer Linzer)

Tabitha Pollock(Photo: Jennifer Linzer)

Wrongfully convicted based on what she should have known

Tabitha Pollock was sleeping when her live-in boyfriend, Scott English, killed her 3-year-old daughter, Jami Sue, in the early morning hours of October 10, 1995, at their home in Kewanee, Illinois.

The following year, a Henry County jury convicted Pollock of first-degree murder and aggravated battery based on the prosecution's contention that she "should have known" English posed a danger to Jami Sue's life. The judge sentenced Pollock to 36 years in prison.

The Third District Illinois Appellate Court affirmed the conviction in 1999, even though the trial judge had observed during a post-trial proceeding that Pollock "did not commit the act of killing, nor did she intend to kill the child, nor was she present in the room when her boyfriend killed the child." Read Appellate Court Opinion (pdf)

After the lawyer who had handled the appeal told her it would be hopeless to appeal further, Pollock wrote to the Center on Wrongful Convictions at the Northwestern University School of Law. A law student read the letter and took it to Center staff counsel Jane Raley, who agreed to represent Pollock.

Even though the deadline for filing a further appeal had passed, the Illinois Supreme Court agreed in 2001 to hear the case and in October 2002, unanimously reversed Pollock's conviction, holding that a defendant cannot be convicted on an accountability theory based on what he or she "should have known."

To sustain a conviction of one person for a murder committed by someone else, the law requires proof of actual knowledge, said the Supreme Court. Yet, in the Pollock case both the prosecution and the judge had misstated the law in telling jurors they had to conclude only that she should have known, not that she actually knew, that English posed a danger to the child. "The circumstances surrounding Jami Sue's death," said the opinion, "do not suggest that defendant was aware of any foul play." The court barred a retrial, by a vote of four to two, and Pollock was released a few days before Christmas 2002. Read Illinois Supreme Court Opinion. (pdf)

Outside Lincoln Correctional Center, where she had served 6 and a half years, Pollock was greeted by her parents, her 12-year-old son Preston, Jane Raley, and a throng of reporters. "I knew I hadn't done anything wrong," Pollock said. "I knew if anyone would help me, it would be Northwestern."