2 men exonerated in 1990 murder
By Steve Mills and Jeff Coen; Chicago Tribune staff reporters
January 31, 2005, 12:45 PM CST
Cook County prosecutors today dropped murder charges against two men who have spent more than 12 years behind bars, after DNA test results undermined their confessions and testimony from a dentist who implicated the two through a bite mark and a hickey.
One of the men, Dan Young Jr., was to be immediately released; the other, Harold Hill, was still being held on a separate robbery conviction.
Young and Hill were exonerated after a forensic dental expert reexamined the bite mark on the victim's body, and a final round of DNA tests again came back and failed to implicate the two defendants.
"We took the evidence where it led us," said Cook County Assistant State's Atty. Bob Milan, who acknowledged that the case against Young and Hill was "troubling from the get-go."
Today's hearing before Criminal Courts Judge Kenneth Wadas lasted only two minutes. Prosecutors first withdrew their opposition to a new trial for the two men, then moved to drop the charges against them.
Young is to be released today from the Illinois state penitentiary in Pontiac, authorities said. Hill will remain behind bars, though the attorney for the men said Hill's sentence was enhanced by the now-vacated murder conviction and he, too, should be set free.
The attorney, Kathleen Zellner, said the "case was flawed from the beginning," noting that a third man charged in the case was set free not long after his arrest after police discovered he was in jail when the murder occurred.
Like Young and Hill, that man also confessed to police.
The case against Young and Hill was featured in the Tribune's October 2004 series, "Forensics Under the Microscope," which examined the use of forensics in the courtroom. The series showed how bite mark testimony has been used as a prosecutorial tool though there is no accurate way to measure its reliability.
The case also was featured in the Tribune's December 2001 series "Cops and Confessions," which examined how police obtained false confessions.
Young and Hill were sentenced to life in prison without parole after their 1994 convictions for the killing of Kathy Morgan, 39, whose body was found in a South Side building in 1990 after firefighters were summoned to extinguish a blaze.
The two have long contended they were innocent.
Their exoneration today followed a report last month that discredited the only physical evidence that linked them to the slaying.
Dr. David Sweet, considered one of the top forensic dental experts in the world, said in a report sent Dec. 13 to defense and prosecution attorneys that a bite mark on the victim was not suitable for comparison because the body had been damaged by a fire apparently set to cover up the crime.
The report rebutted testimony given by Park Ridge dentist John Kenney that Young and Hill were responsible for marks on Morgan.
The state's attorney's office and Zellner had jointly agreed upon Sweet to analyze the evidence and to accept his opinion.
Hill had sought a new trial based on the dental examination as well as previous DNA tests that failed to link them to the crime. The DNA tests that have been completed to date have identified the genetic profiles of two other unknown men.
Latest test results of DNA taken from the victim's clothing again came back negative for the two defendants, prosecutors said today.
The only other evidence linking Young and Hill were alleged confessions to detectives. Those confessions have been questioned because police at the time said a third man, Peter Williams, had confessed as well. After police learned Williams was in jail at the time of the crime, he was released.
Hill, who was 16 when Morgan was killed, was arrested on unrelated charges about 18 months after the slaying. Chicago police detectives Kenneth Boudreau and John Halloran obtained a confession from him saying that he, Young and Williams all took part in the crime.
Two days later, detectives arrested Young, who court-appointed doctors said had an IQ of 56, which is 14 points below the most commonly used benchmark for determining retardation. Young said police beat him.
Williams was the last to be arrested. He gave the most detailed confession, but he later said he was handcuffed to a radiator for hours and urinated on himself because he was not allowed to use a bathroom.
The detectives denied they abused the men.
After this morning's court hearing, Young's sister, Betty Ray, said her family always knew he was innocent.
"You know your brother, you know your family," Ray said. "This is something you know that he could never, ever have done."
Police simply wanted to clear the murder, Ray said. She added, "They just wanted to pin it on someone and close the case fast, in a hurry, but they picked the wrong guys."
Prosecutors said they spent tens of thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours in reviews of the case and new testing. In the end, there was not enough evidence to pursue the matter in good faith, Milan said.
The new lab work included testing at the forefront of current forensic science, prosecutors said. In no test was DNA from either Young or Hill isolated, they said.
Milan said today's investigators have the "luxury" of such evidence, which was not available when charges were first brought in the case. If the case had been brought in 2005, it would not have resulted in charges, he said.