On July 27, 1988, the bodies of two women and three children were discovered in a burning home on the south side of Chicago. Nine days later, 22-year-old Ronald Kitchen and 29-year-old Marvin Reeves became suspects in the murders when an imprisoned informant named Willie Williams contacted a Chicago police officer and claimed that Kitchen had admitted committing the crime with Reeves.
The supposed admission came during two telephone calls that Williams claimed to have made to Kitchen. Although telephone records indicated no such calls had been made on the dates Williams claimed, police obtained a court order allowing them to listen in on future calls that Williams would place to Kitchen.
Between August 12 and 22, Williams called Kitchen 36 times, but failed to elicit any incriminating information. There was no physical evidence linking either man to the crime. Nonetheless, on August 25, police arrested Kitchen and took him to a police station for interrogation by, among others, Detective Michael Kill, an underling of Commander Jon Burge, who would be fired in 1993 for engaging with Kill and others in the systematic torture of scores of African American criminal suspects.
After 16 hours of alleged abuse and torture, Kitchen signed a confession prepared by Assistant Cook County State’s Attorney Mark Lukanich. At his first court appearance after being charged, Kitchen told Judge Richard J. Fitzgerald that he had been tortured. Fitzgerald noted that Kitchen had physical injuries and ordered his transfer to a hospital, where he was treated for testicular trauma and various injuries.
Based solely on Williams’s testimony and the confession obtained by Kill, a jury found Kitchen guilty on September 19, 1990, and Judge Vincent Bentivenga sentenced him to death.
Reeves was tried separately and convicted by a jury on May 28, 1991, based substantially on Kitchen’s purported admission to Williams. Bentivenga sentenced Reeves to life. The Illinois Appellate Court reversed Reeves’s conviction in 1995, finding that the judge had erred in admitting Williams’s hearsay account of his conversations with Kitchen. Upon retrial, Reeves was again convicted and again sentenced to life. That conviction was affirmed in 2000.
In 2003, Judge Paul Biebel, Jr., the presiding judge of the Cook County Circuit Court Criminal Division, removed the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office from all post-conviction proceedings involving torture allegations because Cook County State’s Attorney Dick Devine, while in private practice, had represented Burge in civil suits involving alleged torture. Biebel ordered Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan to take over the cases.
Over the next six years, as evidence continued to mount regarding the extent of the torture in which Burge and his men had engaged, Madigan’s office reinvestigated the Kitchen-Reeves case. On July 7, 2009, Madigan agreed to vacate the convictions and dismiss all charges against Kitchen and Reeves. Six weeks later, Judge Biebel granted them certificates of innocence, qualifying each for $192,000 in compensation through the Illinois Court of Claims.
— Center on Wrongful Convictions