Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Meet the Exonerated: Illinois's Death Row, Part Four

Ronald Kitchen was the 134th person exonerated from death row and the 20th in Illinois since 1973.

Kitchen and a co-defendant were found guilty of the murders of two women and three children in 1988. His conviction was based primarily on a confession that was extracted ruthlessly by Detective Michael Kill, who worked under Police Commander Jon Burge and his ring of sadistic detectives at Chicago's Area II and III police stations. Burge and his detectives systematically used electroshock, suffocation via "bagging" and cattle prods to torture confessions out of poor Blacks.

With no physical evidence, witnesses or motive to connect Ronny to the crime, prosecutors resorted to the use of an informant to back up the "confession." While behind bars, jailhouse snitch Willie Williams contacted police after seeing a newspaper clipping about the murders Ronny was accused of. He said he knew who did it and that Ronny had bragged about the murders in a phone conversation before being arrested. But Ronny's attorney, Richard Cunningham, found that there was no phone records of one of the calls Willie claims to have made to Ronny from prison. In addition, on two other calls recorded by police, Ronny never confesses.

Ronny was just walking home from the grocery store, where he had picked up some cookie dough for his kids, when detectives grabbed him and took him to an interrogation room -- then proceeded to beat him until he confessed to a multiple murder.

"When I told [Officer Smith] that I didn't know these people, he started hitting me in the groin like Officer Kill and [Commander] Burge did," Ronny says. "Before he left the room, he told me, 'We have ways of making niggers talk,' and when he came back into the room, he had a blackjack and telephone book...Ten minutes later, Officer Kill came and started to hit me in the head and groin area again. He said, 'You're going to do what we told you to do.'"
Finally, on July 7, 2009, after Ronald Kitchen spent thirteen of his 21 years behind bars on death row, he was released from prison as prosecutors dropped all charges against him and his co-defendant, citing insufficient evidence to retry them for five murders that occurred in 1988. "It really hasn't hit me yet," said Kitchen, upon leaving the courts building after serving more than two decades in prison for the murders. "It's, like, surreal.”Kitchen was reunited with his sons, one of whom was born while he was in prison, and his family.

In this video, Ronald and his lawyers from Northwestern Law School talk about his case.

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