Death Penalty and Death Row in USA

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Prosecutors and policemen charged with framing 2 defendants

Contra Costa Times, March 9, 1999

In Chicago, in a rare case of prosecutors becoming the prosecuted, jury selection was to begin Tuesday in the trial of 7 former prosecutors and policemen charged with framing 2 men in the rape and murder of a 10-year-old girl.
The alleged prosecutorial conspiracy was exposed in 1995 during the last of 3 trials of Rolando Cruz, one of 2 men freed after a decade on death row for the 1983 rape and bludgeoning murder of Jeanine Nicarico.
A 47-count indictment charges the 7 -- one of whom has since become a judge -- with perjury and obstruction of justice for allegedly fabricating Cruz's confession and suppressing other evidence, including another convicted murderer's admission that he committed the crime.
The case alleges a long conspiracy dating back to the Feb. 25, 1983 murder and pits former colleagues against each other. If convicted, the 3 former prosecutors would be the 1st to be convicted of a felony for knowingly using false evidence to send an innocent man to death row.
All 7, nicknamed the DuPage Seven because of the county near Chicago where the events occurred, have said they are innocent. They will be tried in a DuPage County courtroom with jury selection expected to take 2 to 3 weeks.
No one else has been charged with the child's murder in the Chicago suburb of Naperville, since an angry judge concluded in 1995 that Cruz was framed. Another man convicted of 2 rape-murders has offered to make a confession if he is spared the death penalty, and DNA evidence points to him.
Some legal experts have said the Nicarico case highlights the pressure on those in law enforcement to solve particularly heinous, high-profile crimes and gain convictions, and the shortcuts they may take to achieve those goals.
Others say the case trains a spotlight on flaws in the U.S. justice system, particularly when the state tries poor defendants without access to a strong legal defense.
Lawrence Marshall, a Northwestern University law professor who has worked to free several wrongly convicted inmates, has called the state's legal system "broken" in capital cases.
Including Cruz and co-defendant Alejandro Hernandez, a total of 11 Illinois Death Row inmates have been released in recent years -- the same number that the state has executed since resuming the death penalty in 1977 -- prompting demands for a moratorium on executions from prominent figures including Chicago Mayor Richard Daley. State legislators have resisted the calls to review the cases of all 162 Illinois death row inmates.
No one disputes that Jeanine Nicarico's death was horrific. The girl's body was found on a hiking path a few miles from her home. She had been raped and her head stomped so hard it left an imprint in the soil.
A few months later, two sheriff's officers now on trial say Cruz allegedly described a "vision" or "dream" about the girl's abduction, which defense attorneys said was Cruz's misguided effort to get a $10,000 reward for uncovering her murderer. Cruz's supposed confession was not properly introduced as evidence, and eventually it was dismissed as a fabrication.
After a series of trials of Cruz and Hernandez, the tangled web of evidence that included allegedly false testimony from jailhouse informers and sloppy handling of physical evidence blew up in prosecutors' faces.
A year after Cruz was acquitted, former prosecutors Patrick King, Thomas Knight and Robert Kilander -- now a DuPage County Circuit Court judge -- were indicted along with DuPage County Sheriff's officers Lt. James Montesano, Lt. Robert Winkler and Detectives Dennis Kurzawa and Thomas Vosburgh.