At 10:00 p.m. on September 18, 1992, 16-year-old Kendrick Thomas, his friend, Sherman Cortez Warmack, and Warmack’s two cousins, Dedrick Warmack and Dario Bailey, all teenagers, were walking on the south side of Chicago. As they passed a house flanked by a large group of males, one of the men began to harass them and brandished his gun. When the boys ran, the man with the gun, wearing a black Raiders jacket and orange pants, began to chase the boys on his bicycle. Other members of the group joined the chase and several shots were fired. The boys split up to find safety.
By morning, the boys realized that Kendrick Thomas was missing and called the police. Thomas’s body was located near the place where the shots had been fired. He had been shot in the head.
Questioned by the police, the boys could not agree on a description of the perpetrator. Only Dedrick Warmack was brought back to the station to view the photo lineup. After speaking with several detectives, he identified Xavier Catron from the lineup although Catron has skin discoloration over most of his body and none of the boys had mentioned this in their descriptions of the perpetrator. Police asked the three youths to view photographs and lineups that included Catron. The three youths later testified to a grand jury that Catron appeared to be the gunman.
Catron was charged with first-degree murder and convicted at a two-day jury trial, during which Thomas’s three friends testified and identified Catron as the gunman. In September 1993, Judge James M. Schrier sentenced Catron to 35 years.
Three years later, Rick Strasser, a WGN-TV assignment editor, responded to Catron’s plea for help. Strasser interviewed individuals who had witnessed the murder. He also spoke with the victim’s father, who admitted that he did not believe Catron was guilty. As Strasser continued to interview witnesses, he received affidavits from the three surviving victims stating that they had been coerced into providing false testimonies.
Based on the witnesses’ recantations, Catron sought a new trial, but on November 1, 1996, Judge Schreier denied Catron’s petition for post-conviction relief, citing the unreliability of recantations. Two years later, December 17, 1998, following the decision in People v. Coleman, in which the Illinois Supreme Court granted a new trial based on the recantation of witness testimony, Catron was awarded a new trial. Following a pre-trial hearing in January 2000, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office dismissed the charges against Catron and he was released from prison on February 1, 2000.
— Center on Wrongful Convictions