On Wednesday a Cook County Judge vacated the convictions of five black men, known as the Englewood 5, who were falsely arrested and harshly prosecuted for crimes they didn't commit. The men were wrongfully convicted in 1994 for raping and killing a women based almost exclusively on confessions that later turned out to be forced or coerced.
Lawyers representing the Englewood 5 say the confessions from the young black teens were lies. "They were coerced from scared, young teenagers who never envisioned that their false admissions would send them to prison for the better part of their lives," said Joshua Tepfer from the Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth at a news conference.
Earlier this year in May 2011, a complete DNA profile of the semen found on the victim's body was compared to a national database and it matched a man whom Cook County State's Attorney's office had long believed was responsible for other two strangulation-murders of prostitutes and violent assaults of at least five others, according to the Innocence Project at the School of Law at Yeshiva University.
"Today's decision closes a painful chapter in Chicago's criminal justice system. However, forced confessions and wrongful convictions remain, particularly for youth of color, and we will not rest until these abusive and discriminatory practices end," Rashad Robinson, executive director of ColorOfChange.org, said in a statement to the press. Robinson is a board member of Colorlines.com's publisher, the Applied Research Center.
"It's also a victory for those who are victims of violent crime as this decision condemns irresponsible law enforcement practices and allows Cook County police and prosecutors to focus on real efforts to reduce crime and protect the public's safety," Robinson went on to say.
After the May DNA findings, 65,000 ColorOfChange.org members signed a petition calling on Cook County prosecutors to release the Englewood 5. The Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth and the Innocence Project helped secure freedom for the Englewood 5.
The release comes just days after the exoneration of the Dixmoor 5--a similar case in which young black men were wrongfully convicted based on confessions that later turned out to be forced.