Patrick Pursley

Wrongfully convicted on flawed testimony by a state firearm and toolmark examiner who testified that bullets and shell casings recovered from the crime scene matched a gun recovered from Mr. Pursley’s home “to the exclusion of all other guns.”

Patrick Pursley was convicted of a murder that occurred in Rockford, Illinois on April 2, 1993.  In the absence of an eyewitness identification, a confession, or any DNA or fingerprint evidence linking Patrick directly to the crime, the State built its case primarily on the expert testimony of a state firearms and toolmark examiner who testified that the bullets and cartridge casings recovered from the crime scene matched to a .9mm Taurus firearm recovered from Mr. Pursley’s home “to the exclusion of all other firearms.” 

For years, Patrick wrote to the Center on Wrongful Convictions and other innocence organizations protesting his innocence and claiming that he had been convicted on the basis of faulty ballistics testimony.  But Patrick was rejected time and time again because there was no legal vehicle to seek the new ballistics comparison testing he was requesting.  Not to be deterred, Patrick, working with outside advocates, succeeded in getting a new amendment to Illinois post-conviction forensic testing statute. This 2007 amendment allowed defendants to seek a comparison of test fired evidence and crime scene ballistics evidence with digital images of ballistic evidence contained in a national database, the National Integrated Ballistics Identification Network (NIBIN).   

In the Fall of 2007, then CWC Legal Director Steven Drizin, accepted Patrick’s case.  He immediately recruited the law firm of Jenner & Block, to partner with him in making a motion for ballistics comparisons under the new statute, the first such motion in the state of Illinois.  In April, 2008, the defense team moved for a comparison of a) the test fires from the recovered gun with the bullets and casings recovered from the crime scene; and b) the bullets and cartridge cases from the scene with digital images of other bullets and cartridge cases already in the NIBIN database.   On July 31, 2009, after briefing and argument, the defense motion for a comparison was denied.   This order, however, was reversed on appeal in People v. Pursley, 943 N.E.2d 98 (2d Dist. 2011). 


In late 2011, after additional legal wrangling, the Illinois State Police (“ISP”), Division of Forensic Services, finally entered images of the test fires and the bullets and cartridge cases from the scene into the NIBIN database.  Significantly, the NIBIN system failed to reveal a digital match between the test from the Taurus and the bullets and cartridge cases from the scene.  Following the failure of the ISP Police to link the test firings to the recovered bullets and cartridge cases through NIBIN, the defense secured an order to allow Mr. John Murdock, one of the leading forensic firearm and tool mark experts in the country, to examine the NIBIN results and to re-examine all of the firearms evidence used in Mr. Pursley’s trial. The results of Mr. Murdock’s review, which was peer-reviewed by Chris Coleman, another experienced firearm and toolmarks examiner, were stunning.  Both Murdock and Coleman had concluded independently (Coleman had no knowledge of Murdock’s findings) that neither the bullets nor the cartridge cases recovered from the crime scene came from the .9mm Taurus found in Mr. Pursley’s home. 

On January 16, 2019, after a bench trial that lasted two days and part of a third day, Judge McGraw acquitted Patrick Pursley.  In total, Patrick had served nearly 24 years in prison for a murder he did not commit. 

Over the course of more than ten years of representing Patrick, the law firm of Jenner and Block donated more than 9,500 hours of professional time to exonerate Patrick Pursley.  The lead lawyers for the case were partners Robert Stauffer and Andrew Vail, with significant contributions from many associates including, Kyle Palazzolo, Kevin Murphy, Ashley Waddell Tingstad, Monika Kothari, and Sara Kim.