On the evening of November 30, 1987, a woman was raped in an apartment complex in Woodridge, Illinois, after admitting the assailant when he knocked on her door, identified himself as a tenant, and asked to use the bathroom.
The victim showered and called the police. She described her attacker as an African American man between 25 and 30 years old, about 200 pounds, with a mustache and afro. He wore tight brown polyester pants and a blue ski parka with a fur collar that the victim had burned with her cigarette.
With the victim’s assistance, the police created a composite sketch of the assailant. Two of the victim’s neighbors said the sketch looked like Marcus Lyons, who lived in the next building and was the only African American tenant in the complex. Police obtained an employee ID photo from AT&T, where Lyons worked, and showed the victim a six-photo lineup. The other five photos in the lineup were police mug shots, and Lyons was the only member in a shirt and tie. The victim identified Lyons, although Lyons was slim and 35 pounds lighter than the victim’s description. Police went to his apartment where they found a pair of brown polyester pants and a blue jacket with no fur collar and no burn hole.
Lyons, a 29-year-old Navy veteran and member of the naval reserve with no previous police record, was arrested. Police interrogated Lyons for two days, during which he allegedly failed a polygraph test. They then conducted a live lineup, in which Lyons was the only member repeated from the photo lineup. Again the victim identified him as the attacker.
After a five-day jury trial in October 1988, during which the victim once again identified Lyons, he was convicted of sexual assault and unlawful restraint and sentenced to six years in prison.
Although Lyons hired a private attorney to file an appeal on his behalf, that appeal was never filed. He was released on parole in 1991 after serving three years of his six year sentence.
Lyons spent much of the next 16 years seeking justice, including an attempt to nail himself to a cross at the Wheaton, Illinois courthouse to dramatize his belief that he had been crucified by county officials. In an attempt to clear his name, Lyons hired John Curnyn of Stone & Associates, who filed for DNA testing. As a result of this testing, which pointed to an unknown male, a judge vacated Lyons’s conviction and the District Attorney dismissed the charges. He filed a petition for a pardon based on innocence, which Governor Rod Blagojevich granted on December 19, 2008. Lyons received $85,350 from the Illinois Court of Claims.
On June 7, 2012, the city of Woodridge agreed to pay $5 million to settle a federal civil rights lawsuit brought by Lyons.
— Center on Wrongful Convictions