In 1996, two Illinois women — one in Vernon Hills, on May 30, and the other in Lake Forest, on August 22 — were robbed at gunpoint of their wedding rings. Patrick McCaughn was charged with the crimes after both victims identified him from a police photo array.
After McCaughn’s arrest on August 27, 1996, three nearly identical robberies occurred in the same areas, but Lake County prosecutors nonetheless proceeded with the case against McCaughn. At his trial, his public defender argued that the post-arrest robberies created reasonable doubt about McCaughn’s guilt. The prosecution countered that those crimes could have been copycats, given that the first two crimes had been extensively publicized. On December 19, 1996, the jury accepted the prosecution theory and found McCaughn guilty.
At McCaughn’s sentencing hearing, however, the judge vacated the conviction and granted McCaughn a new trial because the jury had considered inadmissible evidence: During deliberations, a juror had removed opaque tape from the bottom of McCaughn’s photo, revealing a prior arrest.
McCaughn waived a jury for his retrial, but was found guilty at a bench trial and sentenced to 12 years in prison on June 12, 1997. The conviction was reversed on appeal based on ineffective assistance of his defense counsel.
As McCaughn awaited his third trial, a man named John Zurawski, was arrested in Arizona and confessed that he had committed all five Lake County wedding-ring robberies. After satisfying themselves of Zurawski’s veracity, prosecutors dismissed the charges against McCaughn.
— Center on Wrongful Convictions