Chicago Sun Times

Michael Saunders, Harold Richardson, Terrill Swift and Vincent Thames

Convictions of four men thrown out in 1994 prostitute murder

BY RUMMANA HUSSAIN Criminal Courts Reporter

November 16, 2011 3:10PM

Terrill Swift had no elaborate plans for celebrating after a Cook County judge overturned his and three others’ convictions for a 1994 murder and rape they say they didn’t commit.

But he did plan to celebrate in his own way.

“I may just take walk, something real simple,” the 34-year-old criminal justice student from Woodridge said following Wednesday’s hearing.

Swift, who was released from prison in 2010 after serving 15 years for the strangulation, realizes he’s not out of the woods yet since Criminal Court Presiding Judge Paul Biebel Jr. ordered a new trial for him and the others.

But now that Biebel has acknowledged recent tests linking a dead felon’s DNA to Nina Glover’s body, Swift is hopeful he and his three co-defendants will soon have their names cleared.

“It was a step in the right direction,” Swift said.

“It’s been rough since I’ve been out [in the community]. At times, it’s worse being out when you’re labeled as a sex offender. You can’t pretty much breathe and now I’m able to breathe again.”

Vincent Thames, 34, of Paducah, Kentucky, said he felt an immense feeling of joy when Biebel vacated the convictions. In court, as dozens of lawyers, family and friends looked on, cheered and cried, Thames assured the two other men who remain behind bars that they’d soon be free.

“I just gave them all hugs and let them know everything would be okay,” said Thames, who was released in July after 16 years in prison.

Biebel ordered Michael Saunders and Harold Richardson held in lieu of $50,000 bail. Both men, who were serving time in Statesville Prison for the Nov. 7, 1994, slaying of the 30-year-old prostitute, will post bond and be released within 24 hours, their attorneys hoped.

Biebel said while the four men had all given handwritten statements, he could not deny that only habitual criminal Johnny Douglas’ semen was traced on Glover’s body.

Douglas, now dead, was convicted of a similar murder in 1997 and was suspected in other murders and sexual assaults. He was never charged with Glover’s murder.

Although Douglas denied knowing Glover, he was on the scene when her naked body was recovered from a dumpster in Englewood, Biebel said.

The four accused men — teenagers in 1994 — were coerced into confessing to the murder, each giving very different accounts of the crime, according to Swift’s attorney Steven Drizin.

“How many other black and brown Chicago teenagers will be forced to falsely confess to crimes they didn’t commit,” said Drizin of Northwestern University’s new Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth.

“It keeps me up at night when I think of this. It should cause you to lose sleep as well.”

Saunders’ lawyer said that if State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez is as concerned about victims as she says she is, she should drop all charges when the case comes back to court on Nov. 28.

“After this ruling, there is no case,” said Peter Neufeld, co-director of the New York-based Innocence Project. “She should end this torture. ... Let them go home. They’re victims.”

State’s attorney spokesman Andy Conklin said the office is reviewing the judge’s decision.

UPDATE:  November 19, 2011 -- Harold Richardson and Michael Saunders released pending re-trial

Harold Richardson and Michael Saunders didn’t mince words about how miserable they felt for what they say is their wrongful conviction.

“I’m mad as a m----------- right now,” Richardson, 33, said Friday — his first day of freedom after 17 years in prison for the 1994 murder and rape of Nina Glover.

“I lost the Christmas spirit, all of that [while I was incarcerated]. I’m hoping to get it back now.”

Saunders, who also spent 17 years behind bars for the prostitute’s slaying in Englewood, said he’d be lying if said he wasn’t bitter.

“I’m very, very angry,” the 32-year-old told reporters outside Cook County Jail. “There’s a lot of resentment.”

On Wednesday, Criminal Court Presiding Judge Paul Biebel Jr. tossed out the men’s convictions and ordered a new trial for them and two others.

Biebel, in his ruling, cited mostly new evidence that linked dead felon Johnny Douglas’ DNA to Glover’s body.

Officials with the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office said they were reviewing the judge’s order.

But Saunders expects that prosecutors will eventually recommend that the charges be dropped.

“The proof is already in the pudding. Everyone knows we didn’t commit this crime, and we’re just waiting for our day in court for us to be vindicated,” he said.

“I’m here for the long haul.”

Saunders, who said he was beaten into confessing to the crime, said he wanted to enjoy the day and spend time with his 17-year-old daughter.

Richardson said he was planning “to chill” with family, friends and lawyers later in the evening.

Despite their anger and bitterness, both men had smiles on their faces Friday.

“It’s a new beginning, man, and I’m just happy to be free,” Saunders said.

“This is the most beautiful day of my life. …Words can’t describe how I’m feeling.”

Terrill Swift, 34, and Vincent Thames, 34, have already been released after serving more than a dozen years for the crime.

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