On the evening of February 3, 1993, teenagers Eric Morro and Larry Tueffel were walking east on Belmont when they were accosted by another teenager, Juan Carlos Torres, and 12-year-old Victor Romo. After a brief altercation in front of the Honey Baked Ham Store, Torres pulled a gun and shot Morro in the chest. An eyewitness, Sandra Elder, called police later that night and identified 13-year-old Thaddeus Jimenez as the gunman. She had seen the shooting from across Belmont as she was exiting a lounge. Police took Tueffel and Phil Torres, who witnessed the shooting from the third floor of the store, to the police station for questioning. Neither of the boys identified Jimenez as the shooter. The next morning, Phil Torres called the police department and stated that he “now remembers” that Jimenez was the perpetrator. After further questioning, Tueffel also changed his story and implicated Jimenez.
Chicago police officers arrested Jimenez and charged him with Morro’s murder. They did not test his clothing or hands for gunshot residue.
Romo, an original suspect in the murder, told his father, Ezequiel, about the shooting and identified Juan Carlos Torres as the boy who killed Morro. Ezequiel met with Torres and secretly tape-recorded the conversation during which Torres confessed to the killing. A copy of the tape was given to the Assistant State’s Attorney, who passed it on to the police investigating Jimenez’s case. At a follow-up interview, Juan denied the conversation, and the police ceased their investigation into his possible involvement.
After a hearing before Juvenile Court Judge Arthur Rosenblum, Jimenez was transferred to Criminal Court and in October 1994, he was tried for Morro’s murder. Judge Christy Berkos excluded the tape-recorded confession by Juan Torres on hearsay grounds and, despite alibi testimony of five different family members and friends that he was at his grandmother’s house at the time of the murder, the jury found Jimenez guilty and he was sentenced to 50 years in prison.
On December 3, 1996, Jimenez’s conviction was reversed by the Illinois Appellate Court because his defense was not allowed to question prospective jurors about possible prejudice against gang members. On re-trial, despite the testimony of Victor Romo that Jimenez was not the shooter and the testimony of alibi witnesses, Jimenez was again found guilty and sentenced to 45 years in prison.
In 2007, Tueffel and Elder recanted their testimony to Jimenez’s attorneys from Northwestern University’s Center on Wrongful Convictions and the law firm of Katten Muchin, LLP. Following the arrest of Juan Carlos Torres on a probable cause warrant, and with the support of the State’s Attorney’s Office, Judge Joseph Claps of the Criminal Division of the Cook County Circuit Court vacated Jimenez’s conviction and ordered his release on May 1, 2009. Torres was indicted for the Morro murder 17 days later.
After Jimenez was awarded a certificate of Innocence, he filed a federal wrongful conviction lawsuit against the City of Chicago. In 2012, a jury awarded him $25 million.
— Center on Wrongful Convictions