Convicts awaiting decision

By Gregory Cappis

Emotions flooded Cook County criminal courtroom 101 during Columbus Day on Oct. 10, a court holiday. Judge Paul Biebel Jr. opened court to hear arguments from the defendants and the state’s attorney for the 1994 rape and murder of Nina Glover.

The defense of the four men, who were teenagers at the time of the incident, fought to get their convictions vacated because of new DNA evidence that links a dead convict to the crime. Biebel heard hours of arguments from the state and defense and was still not able to make a decision because of new paperwork presented to him.

Terrill Swift was the only defendant present for the hearing. Vincent Thames is currently out of state, and Harold Richardson and Michael Saunders are incarcerated. Swift seemed confident during the trial. His focus seemed to be on his future, where he will be starting classes at College of DuPage.

“I’m anxious to get this over with,” Swift said during an intermission.

Josh Tepfer, representing Swift and Northwestern University’s Center on Wrongful Convictions, led the defense team. He started his argument by presenting the judge with “Seven Undisputed Facts” of the case, which were actually disputed by the

state’s attorney.

In May 2011, DNA testing linked the semen found inside Glover to Johnnie Douglas, a convicted rapist and murderer, as previously reported by The Chronicle on Sept. 12. He was linked to seven other violent sexual assault crimes between 1993 and 1997. His nickname was “Maniac.”

“The state has a stronger case against Douglas than they do in our case,” Tepfer said, his voice rising in pitch.

He argued that the Glover case followed Douglas’ modus operandi to a tee. Douglas strangled prostitutes while having sex with them, Tepfer said.

The state’s attorney, Mark Ertler, said it went against Douglas’ MO to be standing where the body was found the morning after the crime.

The defense and prosecution also disagreed on where the crime occurred.

Tepfer argued it was not in Vincent Thames basement as the four boys’ confessions state. He said it was more likely the crime was committed in the building or alley where Glover’s body was found in a dumpster.

Another one of his seven undisputed facts was the blood found in Thames’ basement during the investigation. There were four drops of blood that could not be traced to a single person. During the original trial, it was suggested that this blood was Glover’s. Recent testing matches the blood to a male.

The most compelling argument presented by Tepfer was Glover’s time of death.

The teenagers’ confessions state they killed her at approximately 9 p.m. However, Tepfer said reports say Douglas and Glover had consensual sex at approximately midnight.

Tepfer also addressed what he called, “the elephant in the room.” The four defendants all confessed to the crime five months after it occurred.

Steven Drizin, legal director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions, argued that in the mid-1990s, people did not know about false confessions.

“When a suspect confessed, their lawyer would seek out a plea bargain,” he said. “Now we know false confessions do exist, and they are more likely to occur when teenagers are subjected to master interrogators.”

Biebel said he could not give his opinion because he still had to read over a document presented to him by the defense, but he will rule on Nov. 16.

“We’ve gone for the better part of three hours, and both sides articulated their argument very well,” he said.

Swift was unavailable for comment after the hearing. He was emotionally distraught and sought comfort from friends and family.

Tepfer spoke confidently about next month’s decision.

“We think we overwhelmingly made our burden of proof and we think the judge will support that,” he said. “The judge seems fair, and we feel that these people will be able to spend Thanksgiving with their families as free men.”

To read Terrill Swift’s full story, visit