Chicago Daily Law Bulletin
Volume 150, No. 138
Copyright (c) 2004 by Law Bulletin Publishing Company

July 15, 2004


by Jerry Crimmins

 The latest inmate to be released from an Illinois prison after DNA tests exonerated him filed his own petition to seek the DNA test even though he has limited ability to read and write.

 Moreover, the freed inmate, Lafonso Rollins, was represented at his trial on rape charges 11 years ago by a lawyer who apparently was disbarred a short time later.

 Rollins, now 28, was convicted and sent to prison.

 "I am calling for an investigation as to how Lafonso Rollins was incarcerated for crimes and sentenced to 75 years when DNA evidence has now acquitted him of crimes for which he spent 11 years in prison," said attorney Robert W. Fioretti in a press conference Wednesday.

 Fioretti, who only recently was retained to represent Rollins, said the state police, Chicago police and the Cook County state's attorney's office should find out how the false conviction occurred "and stop it from ever happening again."

 Fioretti said the conviction resulted from a coerced confession and the use of a questionable procedure known as a reverse lineup, in which a suspect is asked to identify his victims.

 "I think this was an outrage, an outrage to the whole system," he said.

 Among the salient aspects of the case are these:

 - In 1993, Rollins confessed to a series of assaults on elderly women.

 - When he confessed, Rollins was 17 and a special education student in the ninth grade, although he may have had only a second-grade writing ability.

 - The attorneys now representing him contend that Rollins' confessions were coerced.

 - No DNA tests were sought at the time of Rollins' arrest and conviction.

 John Gorman, spokesman for the Cook County state's attorney's office, said Rollins' defense lawyer "did not ask for DNA testing at the time" of the arrest or in connection with the trial.

 And about Rollins' confessions, Gorman said, "We don't know why this man confessed. We know that, neither pretrial nor during the trial, there [were] any allegations of a coerced confession.

 "We do know there is the phenomenon of false confessions," Gorman added.

 "People confess to crimes they didn't commit, awful crimes sometimes, and we don't know why this young man confessed to these crimes. But we do know he didn't do it," Gorman said.

 Fioretti called the Rollins case "an immense tragedy."

 Rollins was released from prison this week with no personal identification, no way to support himself, and little contact with any relatives, Fioretti said.

 "On Monday, they opened the doors of the prison ... and said, 'You're on your own,' " according to Fioretti. "How does society now bring him back?"

 Rollins was freed after the state's attorney's office asked Associate Judge Dennis J. Porter in Cook County Criminal Courts to throw out Rollins' conviction and dismiss the case.

 Chicago police arrested Rollins in late January 1993 during their investigation of a series of at least four assaults on elderly women in a three-week period.

 All of the victims lived in public housing for senior citizens at 6360 S. Minerva Ave.

 According to a post-conviction petition filed by Assistant Public Defender Ingrid A. Gill, two of the victims gave descriptions of their attacker to an artist who made a composite sketch of the suspect.

 The manager of the building told police that the sketch looked like Rollins, who regularly visited a man who lived on the 8th floor.

 Police picked up Rollins. One of the rape victims, a 78-year-old woman, attended a lineup and failed to identify him, according to both sides.

 Gorman said Rollins nevertheless confessed to three of the assaults and was charged with four.

 Police also showed Rollins a series of photos of elderly women and Rollins purportedly picked out the photos the ones who were attacked, Gorman said. Those photos turned out to be the women who were the actual victims.

 "Mr. Rollins has maintained that the police intimidated him and promised him that he would go home" if he signed the confessions, Gill argued. The police also allegedly told Rollins that "testing would be performed so not to worry."

 Assistant Public Defender Vicki F. Rogers, chief of the appeals and post-conviction unit, said no one was present to verify that Rollins picked out the photos of the victims, except the police.

 DNA tests were not done in all rape cases in 1993, Rogers said. She said the defense attorney would have had to request it.

 At trial, Rollins was represented by Madison Gordon, according to Rogers and Fioretti.

 The only Madison Gordon who has been a lawyer in Illinois was Madison James Gordon who was admitted to the bar in 1989, according to James J. Grogan, chief counsel for the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission.

 Gordon was suspended from the practice of law by the Illinois Supreme Court Sept. 29, 1995, "for multiple acts of neglect ... and failed to appear at his own disciplinary hearing," Grogan said.

 Gordon never applied to be reinstated, Grogan said.

 On appeal, Rollins was represented by the state appellate defender's office, Rogers said.

 After the failed appeals, Rogers himself started the post-conviction process that led to his freedom.

 "About two years ago, he filed a pro se motion for DNA testing," Gorman said.  "We agreed to that and we submitted it to the Illinois State Police crime lab."

 After Rogers filed his petition, the court appointed the public defender's office to represent him.

 The DNA results on sperm left at the scene of the rape of a 78-year-old woman -- the assault for which Rollins was sentenced to 75 years in prison -- showed the fluid came from an unknown man.

 "We immediately sought and obtained the sperm sample from the second sexual assault in another case he was charged with," Gorman said.

 In that second case, a 92-year-old woman had been attacked. Rollins had been charged but not convicted in that attack.

 Last week, the state police crime lab reported that the man who raped the 92- year-old woman was not Rollins.

 The rapist was in fact the same man who had raped the 78-year-old woman, Gorman said, "but it wasn't our guy" Rollins.

 Fioretti said Thursday that attorney John B. Lower is filing a suit for damages in the Illinois Court of Claims for wrongful imprisonment. Fioretti is also preparing a civil suit on Rollins' behalf, but has not yet decided whom to name as defendants. Lonny Ben Ogus is also representing Rollins.

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