Ibrahim “Billy” Zayed, a grocery store owner on Chicago’s west side, was murdered on November 24, 1996, during an armed robbery.
The murder was witnessed by Andrew Bolton, a store employee, who gave a description of the murderer to police, and a composite sketch was created. Also, Bolton claimed that, shortly after the crime, he saw a man purchasing a snowblower at a nearby store and recognized him as Zayed’s killer. The police showed the composite sketch to the store owners and both owners agreed it was a close fit, although they thought the man in the store had a bigger nose.
In March 1997, a drug suspect mentioned that, according to the word on the street, a man nicknamed “Flaco” killed an Arab grocer. Chicago Police Detective Ernest Halvorsen determined that Zayed was the only person killed in a grocery store in 1996 and 1997. Halvorsen learned from other detectives that there was a gang member, Angel Rodriguez, who went by that nickname. A photo lineup of six photos, which included a photo of Rodriguez, was shown to Bolton, and he identified Rodriguez as the shooter. On March 23, Rodriguez was arrested on a warrant for an unrelated traffic violation.
The next day, a lineup including Rodriguez was conducted by another detective, Jon Woodall. Bolton thought that Rodriguez looked similar to the shooter, but the shooter was a lot smaller. Woodall lied to Bolton that the police had been holding Rodriguez for several months and he picked up some weight. Woodall then “pressured” Bolton to select Rodriguez as the shooter, telling him that Rodriguez had a long criminal history in the neighborhood. Bolton finally identified Rodriguez as the murderer.
Rodriguez was charged and, on March 10, 1998, he was convicted by a jury for the murder. Judge Dennis Porter sentenced Rodriguez to 60 years in prison.
On March 23, 2000, the Illinois Appellate Court reversed Rodriguez’s conviction, holding that Bolton’s testimony was unworthy of belief, and directing that Rodriguez be released without retrial. The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office filed notice of appeal, but never actually filed the appeal. Rodriguez was freed on August 14, 2000.
A few months later, Rodriguez filed a federal civil rights suit alleging that he had been framed by Halvorsen and Woodall. In depositions taken in that case, the owners of the snowblower store testified that once they saw Rodriguez in person, they realized that he was not the man in their store that day. In another deposition, Bolton testified that he had been coerced to falsely identify Rodriguez by Woodall, who was convicted on unrelated federal conspiracy charges in 2003. A federal jury, however, denied Rodriguez $12.4 million he sought against Halvorsen and Woodall.
— Center on Wrongful Convictions