On April 15, 1989, 18-year-old Algie Crivens and two friends were in a McDonald’s restaurant on the south side of Chicago when they heard a commotion in the nearby Jewel supermarket parking lot and walked over to see what was happening. There were three gunshots, and Crivens and his friends ran from the lot as Cornelius “Corndog” Lyons lay dying on the pavement.
Accompanying the victim was his friend Julius Childs, who described the shooter as a black man with a light complexion and blond hair, about six feet tall and weighing 140 to 150 pounds.
At a bench trial in 1991, Childs identified Crivens as the killer. A second witness, Odell Kelly, also a friend of the victim, was in the store when he heard the shot. He testified he did not see Crivens fire the shot, but ran outside and saw Crivens running from the scene.
As far as Crivens, his lawyers, and the judge knew, Childs was an upstanding citizen with no incentive to testify other than to see justice done. Prosecutors knew otherwise – that, at the time of the crime, he was on probation for possession of crack cocaine with intent to deliver, and that, four months before the trial, he was arrested driving a stolen car and charged with criminal trespass to a vehicle.
In response to a defense subpoena for Childs’s rap sheet, the prosecution provided nothing. At trial, the prosecution relied on Childs’s purported identification of Crivens as the killer. The defense attempted to introduce testimony from Titonia Smith, who was willing to say that a man named Marcus Williams had admitted, while they shared a jail lockup, that he had shot Lyons.
But the trial judge, Loretta Hall Morgan, rejected Smith’s testimony as unreliable and proceeded to find Crivens guilty. On January 12, 1992, she sentenced Crivens to 20 years.
Crivens moved for a new trial based on a claim of new evidence: a man named Demetrius Taylor, who had not testified at the trial, testified at an evidentiary hearing that he saw Williams shoot Lyons. Judge Morgan denied the motion, declaring the testimony would not have changed the outcome of the trial.
After losing his state appeals, Crivens sought a federal writ of habeas corpus. While it was pending, Crivens’s lawyers discovered Childs’s criminal record, and, on that basis, Crivens was awarded a new trial by the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. In 2000 the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office attempted to retry Crivens, but his lawyers moved for a directed verdict of not guilty, which Judge Mary Ellen Coghlan granted.
Illinois Governor George H. Ryan pardoned him based on innocence, qualifying him for $128,000 in restitution from the state. In 2003, he brought a civil rights suit against his prosecutors, which was unsuccessful.
— Center on Wrongful Convictions