Monday, April 19, 2010

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

Rolando Cruz (left) and Alejandro Hernandez (bottom left) were twice wrongly convicted for the murder of 10-year-old Jeanine Nicarico.

Prior to their 1985 trial the lead detective in the case resigned in protest that prosecutors were proceeding against innocent men. Nonetheless, prosecutors continued and won convictions, thanks to the testimony of officers who falsely claimed that Cruz had told them details of the crime that only the killer would have known.

Shortly after the trial, another man, Brian Dugan, who had already confessed that he alone raped and murdered 10-year old Jeanine Nicarico and another 8-year-old girl, corroborated by overwhelming evidence. Despite this, prosecutors refused to acknowledge that they had put the wrong men on death row and Cruz and Hernandez were convicted at a second trial in 1990, at which Dugan did not testify and which much of the evidence proving that Dugan had committed the crime was excluded from the courtroom.

In 1990, a volunteer legal team agreed to represent Cruz and Hernandez on appeal. After four years of litigation, the Illinois Supreme Court reversed Cruz and Hernandez's conviction in 1994, and granted him a third trial. However, prior to that trial, newly available DNA testing excluded Cruz and Hernandez as the child's rapists, linking Dugan to the crime. Even so, prosecutors refused to drop the case.

In July, 1994, the state Supreme Court overturned Cruz and Hernandez's second conviction. An assistant state attorney general resigned because she thought the evidence showed Cruz was innocent and thought it wrong to pursue the prosecution. Other law enforcement officials also protested the continued efforts to prosecute Cruz and Hernandez . Cruz and Hernandez were finally acquitted at retrial in November, 1995. The judge did not even wait for the defense to put on its case before entering a directed verdict of not guilty.

Three prosecutors and four law enforcement officers involved with the prosecution of Cruz and Hernandez have been indicted for obstruction of justice in this case. t

The book Victims of Justice Revisited tells the pivotal story of Cruz and his two co-defendants after the 1983 murder of ten-year-old Jeanine Nicarico of Naperville, Illinois. The book follows the story from the day the crime occurred to the groundbreaking trial of seven law officers accused of conspiring to deny Cruz a fair trial.

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