DNA test rules out 4 inmates

Lawyer for men plans to ask court for their freedom 

By Maurice Possley& Steve Mills 
Tribune staff reporters 
November 14, 2001 

The final round of DNA tests on clothing belonging to a medical student murdered in 1986 has found no link to four men convicted of the crime, officials said Tuesday. 

Dr. Edward Blake, a DNA expert retained by the defense team, confirmed that officials at Cellmark Diagnostics Inc., the Maryland firm retained to perform the tests, has informed him that the final round of analysis of semen stains from the clothes of Lori Roscetti excludes the four men convicted of her murder, including three who are serving life prison sentences.  The DNA profiles identified in the latest round of tests matched the two unidentified profiles discovered earlier this year. 

"I have not received the data yet, but I was told that the results were the same as those from the first tests," Blake said. "I am awaiting the data from Cellmark to prepare my report." 

Kathleen Zellner, attorney for the four men, also said she had been informed of the results. "I think now there is overwhelming evidence of my clients' innocence, and hopefully when I file my petition on Dec. 5, they will be released." 

Assistant State's Atty. Celeste Stewart Stack, who recently took over the case for Cook County State's Atty. Richard Devine, declined to comment. Officials at Cellmark referred questions to the state's attorney's office. 

DNA tests were ordered in February after the filing of a report written by Blake, which labeled the testimony offered in the prosecution of the Roscetti case by Pamela Fish, a Chicago police crime analyst, as scientific fraud.  At trial, police crime analyst Pamela Fish testified that semen taken from Roscetti's body and her underwear could have belonged to three of the defendants.  Those DNA tests showed that semen on the victim's underwear and a vaginal swab were not from any of the four men convicted of her abduction, rape and murder. All four are seeking to have their convictions vacated. 

A Tribune investigation published May 2 detailed how the case against the four was unraveling even before the initial DNA test results were known. 

To try to eliminate all possibility of involvement by the four men--two of whom police said had confessed to taking part in the
crime--Criminal Court Judge Dennis Porter ordered additional DNA tests on all of Roscetti's clothing. That round of tests turned up 22 semen stains on her coat and jogging pants--clothes that were examined by Fish in 1986. At that time, Fish reported finding no semen stains on those items, according to records obtained by the Tribune. 

DNA experts to write report
After Blake receives the test data from Cellmark, he will work with Dr. Pamela Newall, a DNA expert in Toronto retained by prosecutors, to write a joint summary of the information. That report will be filed in court.  At that time, Zellner, the attorney for Omar Saunders, Marcellius Bradford, Larry Ollins and his cousin, Calvin, intends to ask Porter to vacate the convictions of the four and set free the three men who are serving life terms--Saunders and the Ollinses. 

With the tests on Roscetti's clothing completed, Cellmark is focusing on DNA testing of the final pieces of evidence in the case--two hair fragments recovered from Roscetti's car. Zellner expressed confidence that the tests on the hair fragments, expected to be completed before Thanksgiving, will exclude the four defendants. 

After the DNA tests on the swab and Roscetti's underwear isolated two DNA profiles that did not match the four, authorities submitted the information to the state database containing DNA profiles of thousands of convicted sex offenders, Zellner said. But authorities did not find a match. Since then, Chicago police, assisted by the FBI, have been reinvestigating the case and have obtained DNA samples from about 30 people, some of whom were briefly considered suspects in 1986. None matches the two new DNA profiles in the Roscetti case. 

Larry and Calvin Ollins, Bradford and Saunders were arrested in January and February 1987, about three months after Roscetti's murder on Oct. 18, 1986. They were accused of attacking Roscetti as she drove home from a night of studying at Rush University medical school, forcing her to a railroad access road on the West Side, then raping and killing her. 
Police said at the time that Bradford and Calvin Ollins, then 14, confessed, saying they ambushed Roscetti at random to get bus fare for Calvin Ollins to return home to the Cabrini-Green housing development. 

2 confessions disputed
Bradford pleaded guilty to lesser charges in exchange for his testimony against Larry Ollins and received a 12-year sentence. He was released but later served time for a burglary conviction. The other three were convicted in separate trials and got life terms. 

A Tribune investigation disclosed that Bradford now says he falsely confessed under police coercion to save himself from a life sentence.  Calvin Ollins said he confessed because police told him he could go home if he did. 

Other key witnesses recanted critical testimony in interviews with the Tribune--one said he testified falsely to try to cash in on a $35,000 reward, and the other said he testified for the prosecution to avoid being implicated himself. 

The Tribune investigation also found that the alleged confessions mirrored a scenario that an FBI criminal profiler said he provided before the four teenagers were arrested. 


 
 
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