Charges Dismissed Against Man Convicted of 1957 Murder

Joliet Lawyer

A legal process consisting of several steps led to the dismissal of murder charges against the man previously convicted of what had once been the nation’s oldest cold case. According to the law, the man could potentially face similar charges in the future, but prosecutors close to the case claim that further prosecution is highly unlikely.

Cold Case “Solved”

In December of 1957, a 7-year-old girl was abducted near her home in Sycamore, then a farming town in DeKalb County. Her body was found some five months later. The case remained open for more than five decades. In 2012, a man who had been questioned by the FBI in 1957 was suddenly back in the spotlight, despite apparent evidence that he had not been in Sycamore at the time of the abduction. Based on a photo lineup using a 50-year old image of the man, an eyewitness—who was with the victim the night of her disappearance—identified him as the person who approached them. The man was subsequently convicted in a bench trial and was sentenced to life in prison.

Vacated Conviction and Dismissal

Dekalb County State’s Attorney Richard Schmack began reviewing the conviction last year. He believed that his predecessor was wrong in the decision to prosecute, and that the case and evidence did not truly support the conviction. He filed a motion to vacate the conviction, which was controversially granted by Dekalb County Judge William Brady. In his decision, Judge Brady overturned the conviction and ordered a new trial for the previously-convicted man. The man was then released from prison on his own recognizance.

Schmack, however, was not done. Further investigation prompted him to file a second motion, this one asking for full dismissal of the murder charges. This week, Judge Brady agreed and dismissed the murder charges without prejudice. The family of the victim has expressed outrage at the judge’s ruling and has requested the appointment of a special prosecutor. A hearing on that request is scheduled for June.
Without Prejudice

The dismissal without prejudice means that the charges against the man are no longer outstanding, but could potentially be refiled without constituting double jeopardy. While the U.S. Constitution guarantees that a defendant cannot be tried twice on the same charges, the vacated conviction and dismissal of the charges effectively means that, in the eyes of the law, the charges never existed. A dismissal with prejudice means that the judge would have been ruling on the man’s innocence or guilt rather than the procedure, thereby barring future prosecution. Judge Brady refused to do so, saying that it was not his role in this instance. Thus, if supported by evidence, new charges for murder could be legally possible. State’s Attorney Schmack has expressed no intention of prosecuting the man again.

Faced With a Confusion Situation?

If you have been charged with a crime that you did not commit, an experienced Joliet criminal defense lawyer can help you protect your future and your rights. As a former prosecutor, Attorney Jack L. Zaremba fully understands the law and the lengths to which some will go to secure a conviction, no matter how thin the evidence against you may be. Call 815-740-4025 to schedule your free, confidential consultation today.

State Senator Claims Chicago Is “False Confession Capital of the Whole United States”

Joliet Juvenile Lawyer

According to the National Registry of Exonerations, a compendium maintained by the University of Michigan Law School, nearly 150 convicted criminals were fully exonerated in 2015, the highest number in a single year ever. The list included 13 individuals convicted in Illinois of murder and sex crimes. While any wrongful conviction is a matter of great concern, the high rate of false confessions in such cases is alarming, with 27 reported nationwide and eight of 13 here in Illinois. False confessions—while a problem for any defendant—are especially likely when the suspect is a juvenile, as younger individuals are often unsure of their rights and are unable to maintain composure during interrogation.

Based on these concerns, State Senator Patricia Van Pelt, D-Chicago, has introduced legislation to ensure that all juvenile suspects have legal counsel present for entire interrogation process. Sen. Van Pelt says she is looking to protect the rights of young suspects in the state and in her home city. “The one thing about Chicago,” she said. “It is the false confession of the whole United States.”

Current Law and Proposed Changes

Illinois law currently requires counsel to be present for juvenile suspects under the age of 13 who have been accused of murder or sex crimes. Those who are 13 and older, however, can waive the right to an attorney during questioning. Many are concerned that suspects can be talked into waiving these rights without understanding them, thereby increasing the risk for false confessions.

Sen. Van Pelt’s bill would require legal counsel to be present for custodial interrogations of a juvenile suspected of committing any offense. Any statements made without an attorney present would be inadmissible in court. Public defenders would, for the most part, be expected to provide counsel in such situations. The court could then decide if the public defender should be removed from the case based on the family’s ability to pay for private representation.

Opposing Views

Critics of the measure, in its current form, say that vague language may present challenges for law enforcement. Some maintain that police procedures may just need to be improved so that juvenile suspects more clearly understand their existing rights. Others claim that a police conversation with a juvenile does not always begin as an interrogation of a suspect. An officer may just be developing information on a case, but, in the process, the juvenile becomes a suspect. How is the officer supposed to know where exactly to draw the line before statements become inadmissible?

The bill—likely an amended version—is expected to be put to a vote sometime in the current legislative session.

If your child has been charged with a crime and you are concerned about the implications of a false confession, contact an experienced Joliet juvenile defense lawyer right away. Attorney Jack L. Zaremba is a former prosecutor who understands the lengths that some authorities will go to in securing a conviction, and he is ready to fight for your child’s rights. Call 815-740-4025 for a free consultation today.

Senate Passes Bill to Prohibit Suing Inmates for Incarceration Costs

Joliet Marijuana LawyerAs it currently stands, more than 40 states are authorized to charge prison inmates for the costs related to their incarceration. In Illinois, the process generally involves a lawsuit filed by the Attorney General’s office on behalf of the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) against a current or former prisoner who inherited or otherwise collected a sum of money during his or her incarceration. Last week, however, Illinois lawmakers took a major step toward eliminating the practice, as a bill that would prohibit such lawsuits passed the Senate by a 32-19 vote. Supporters of the legislation say that suing inmates to recover incarceration expenses can severely curtail their attempts to get back on their feet and avoid returning to criminal activity.

Exposure Leads to Action

In late November of last year, the Chicago Tribune published the story of a man who had been convicted on drug charges and was serving a 15-month prison sentence. During his incarceration, the man collected more than $30,000 in a settlement related to the wrongful death of his mother—money that he planned to use to build a new life on the outside. Before he could be released, though, the IDOC successfully sued the man for almost $20,000 to cover the costs of his imprisonment. When he was finally paroled, he left prison with virtually nothing, lived in a homeless shelter for a time, then with a family member, and, eventually, he died penniless.

The story struck a chord with two Illinois legislators, in particular. State Senator Daniel Biss, D-Evanston, and Representative Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, say that the report prompted them to draft legislation that would eliminate such lawsuits in the state. Biss and Cassidy believe that the practice is inconsistent with the corrections system’s goals of rehabilitating criminal offenders. “Your hope is they will wind up on their feet,” Sen. Biss said. “Taking what, in many cases, is limited resources is counterproductive.

Time to Act

The state of Illinois has been permitted to sue inmates for incarceration costs since 1982, though such lawsuits were rare until recent years. According to reports, the IDOC only pursued two cases each in 2012 and 2013, but the number jumped to 11 such suits in 2015. Since 2010, Illinois has recovered over half a million dollars, but the bulk of the amount came from only two prisoners.

Like Sen. Biss, Rep. Cassidy—who will serve as the bill’s chief sponsor as it is now under consideration in the state House—expressed her disapproval of the current system. “We pay for prison every day,” she said. “That’s the function of government. Fundamentally, this is just wrong.” She added that the public, in general, agrees that it is time for change, saying, “People mostly were mortified we were doing this.”

Prison-Related Concerns

Regardless of the bill’s future, the most effective way to avoid being sued for the cost of imprisonment is to stay out of jail. Sometimes, however, that may not be as easy as it sounds. If you are facing criminal charges, you need the assistance of an experienced Will County criminal defense lawyer. As a former prosecutor, Attorney Jack L. Zaremba understands the system and will work hard to protect your rights and your future. Call 815-740-4025 to schedule a free, confidential consultation today.


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