Justice delivered

By Gregory Cappis

A Cook County judge has ordered a new trial for four men who filed a motion to vacate their convictions in a rape and murder. The ruling drew tears of joy from the defendants and their families.

Judge Paul Biebel Jr. overturned the convictions of Terrill Swift, Michael Saunders, Harold Richardson and Vincent Thames in the 1994 death of Nina Glover at the Nov. 16 proceeding.

“Now I’m able to breathe a little bit,” Swift said after sharing hugs, emotions and high-fives with his friends and family.

For the first time since being released on parole in May 2010, Swift will be able to breathe fresh air without having to get approval from his parole officer, and he plans to take full advantage of it.

“I may just go for a walk—something real simple,” he said of his future plans.

Not all of Swift’s co-defendants share the same privilege. Richardson and Saunders remain incarcerated with bond set at $50,000 as they await a new trial. Thames, who completed his sentence, made the trip from his home in Kentucky to appear in court. He said he is relieved and is not bitter toward anybody for his years lost behind prison walls.

Saunders has yet to see his 17-year-old daughter outside of prison. She said she just wants her dad to come home, and thanked all of the people who helped overturn his conviction.

The men’s convictions were vacated because recent DNA evidence linked a deceased murderer to the crime, as reported by The Chronicle on Sept. 12. This evidence impacted the judge’s decision to overturn the guilty verdicts. Biebel said the judge on the original case—“the well-respected” Thomas Sumner—said, “if there is a DNA match, then we are talking about another case altogether.”

Yet another case is what the four defendants are facing. The state’s attorney has not dropped the charges. Assistant State’s Attorney Mark Ertler said at the hearing that as of now, the state’s attorney will be following through with a new trial.

Peter Neufeld, co-director of the New York Innocence Project and legal counsel for Michael Saunders, said State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez needs to do the right thing and dismiss the cases of these men.

“The state’s attorney said she’s concerned with victims,” Neufeld said. “These four men are victims.”

Combined, they have served more than 60 years in prison. Each could be eligible for almost $200,000 in compensation from the state for the years they spent incarcerated, but none of their lawyers wanted to discuss future civil suits.

“We are just excited about today and getting their names cleared,” said Swift’s lawyer, Josh Tepfer, of Northwestern University’s Center for Wrongful Convictions of Youth.

Upon Biebel’s decision, Tepfer immediately asked the defendants’ names be removed from the sex offender registry. Biebel said that could not be decided at this moment.

Not being on the sex offender list would allow Thames to be optimistic regarding his future. He said he will continue his job search and is confident that he will find employment once he doesn’t have the stigma of being on the registry.

Swift said he will continue to attend class at the College of Dupage—as The Chronicle reported on Oct. 17—where he is studying criminal justice for “obvious reasons.” He doesn’t have any grand plans for life without a tracking device wrapped around his ankle, except to find employment and enjoy it to the fullest.

“For now, I’m just going to relax a little bit and enjoy Thanksgiving with my family,” Swift said.