Author Archive: Willie Garcia
WILLIE T. DONALD WAS EXONERATED AND RELEASED AFTER 23 YEARS IN PRISON
Donald, 47, was convicted of a murder and series of armed robberies that he steadfastly swore he did not commit. On January 25, a Lake County, Indiana court agreed, concluding that the State’s star witness against “Timmy,” as he is known, had been pressured by Gary police and prosecutors into falsely testifying at trial — and concealed evidence of Donald’s innocence. The court vacated his convictions, and prosecutors dismissed all charges in the case on January 27.
The turning point in the case was when Chicago Innocence Center Founder and President, David Protess, and two interns tracked down the witness in Florida. After extensive interviews, they persuaded her to testify at a deposition in Crown Point where she would finally tell the truth — that Donald was innocent and another man had committed the crimes.
Believing from the start that Skinner was the killer, the cops failed to investigate alternative suspect Robert Donnell, Twila’s uncle (now deceased). Donnell had molested her in the past, frightened her with crude sexual advances at a New Year’s Eve party less than an hour before the murders and vanished after she headed home. He was next seen scrubbing his pick-up truck from top to bottom on a frigid New Year’s Day.
The Chicago Innocence Center Board and staff are delighted to share the news that Willie T. Donald walked out of an Indiana prison January 28 a free man, after serving nearly 24 years for crimes he did not commit.
Donald’s exoneration is the fourth for the Center since its inception in 2011.
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ERIC CAINE WAS EXONERATED
AFTER 25 YEARS IN PRISON
Caine’s ordeal began at age 20 at the South Side police station officially known as Area 2 — unofficially dubbed the House of Screams. Shortly after the murders of an elderly couple in 1986, Caine was brought in for questioning by officers under the command of Jon Burge, the notorious police lieutenant who directed a campaign of torture against scores of suspects.
Caine became a suspect when another neighborhood resident, Aaron Patterson, named him in connection with the murders. While police claimed that Patterson also implicated himself, the evidence later showed that he was tortured by the police.
Now it was Caine’s turn. He was kicked down a flight of stairs, pummeled in the gut and hit so hard in the head that his left eardrum ruptured. Dazed and defeated, Caine confessed to a crime he did not commit.
But at trial, police officers swore the confessions were voluntary, and jurors believed them. (The eardrum malady? Caused by a ‘sinus infection,’ the authorities claimed.) Separate panels convicted Caine and Patterson of murder in the first. Caine was sentenced to life without parole; Patterson got death. As the two men languished behind bars, reporters (including Medill journalism students) began exposing the police torture scandal.
In 2002, David Protess, founder and president of CIC, presented evidence of Caine’s and Patterson’s innocence to Gov. George Ryan, who already had imposed a moratorium on executions because of the state’s woeful record of sentencing innocents to death. Both men were suddenly hopeful.
Then, in a stunning development in January 2003, the governor commuted the sentences of all death row prisoners in Illinois — and pardoned Patterson outright, setting him free. But with the spotlight on death cases, Caine, a lifer, was left behind, even though the evidence that freed Patterson applied equally to Caine. In effect, Eric Caine was punished for not being sentenced to death.
Caine would remain in prison for eight more years until a team of lawyers and law students with the Exoneration Project finally convinced the State to release him earlier this year. He took his first steps on freedom on March 16th — the same day that Jon Burge was dispatched to federal prison for perjury and obstruction of justice in the police torture scandal.
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