Restrictions Dropped

By Gregory Cappis

The defense team won another battle—albeit a small one—in the case of the 1994 rape and murder of Nina Glover.

On Nov. 16, the four defendants—Terrill Swift, Vincent Thames, Michael Saunders and Harold Richardson—had their convictions vacated because of newly discovered DNA evidence, as reported by The Chronicle on Nov. 21. The defendants are still waiting for the state’s attorney to decide if they will be forced to stand trial again.

Saunders and Richardson were still incarcerated at the time of their last hearing. On Nov. 16, the judge ordered they be released from prison, but held on a $50,000 bail until their next court date. Both men were able to make bail and spend Thanksgiving outside prison walls.

They were granted even more freedom at the hearing on Nov. 28. The travel restrictions that were given to them when they were bonded out of jail were lifted. Now, the men are allowed to travel state-to-state as often as they please.

“Lifting the travel restriction is extremely important because they haven’t been with their [families] for 15 years,” said Stuart Chanen, Thames’ lawyer, of Valorem Law Group.

Saunders plans to live with family in Georgia and make a trip to New York to visit the Innocence Project, where his lawyer, Peter Neufeld, works. Richardson will join his family in South Bend, Ind. Swift plans to spend time with his family in the suburbs, and Thames is living in Kentucky. He did not have any prior restrictions because he served his entire sentence before the convictions were discarded.

The only requirement is that they attend their next hearing, which will be on Jan. 17. The state asked for the status hearing to give them more time to decide if they will pursue a new case or drop the charges altogether. According to the presiding judge, Paul Biebel Jr., if the state does not make a decision within 180 days, he would gain jurisdiction over the case, leading to the charges being dropped.

Chanen said the state has no case for a new trial. The judge has already vacated the convictions based on the new DNA evidence that links a deceased murderer to the case. There is also no other physical evidence that links the four defendants to the crime, as Biebel pointed out when he dropped their convictions.

“The DNA evidence is as exculpatory as you can get,” said Josh Tepfer of Northwestern University’s Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth and counsel for Swift. “We remain hopeful that justice will come to these four individuals.”

By overturning their convictions, Biebel made the confessions—which convicted them in the first place—null and void. He said for whatever reasons, they confessed, but the DNA evidence is strong enough to overturn convictions that were based on their confessions.

Swift said he falsely confessed as a teenager because of lies and police coercion, as reported by The Chronicle on Sept. 12. He said he is enjoying his new life—one without the stigma of being a convict. He said he pleased by the Thanksgiving holiday with his family and is in the process of getting his old job back.

After he was released on parole in May 2010, Swift found a job at a Discount Tire store in the West Suburbs. A parole violation that was later rescinded caused him to lose his job after a brief stint behind bars. He is now one step away from being rehired by his former boss, who let him go so that he could “focus on the case.” Swift’s focus eventually paid off—he is now free and can concentrate on his future.