Eighteen-year-old Omar Saunders was one of four African American teenagers convicted of the October 1986 kidnapping, rape and murder of 23-year-old Rush Medical College student Lori Roscetti in Chicago. The men allegedly jumped into Roscetti’s car as she drove home late at night, took her to a secluded location, raped, robbed and beat her to death.
Saunders, 16-year-old Larry Ollins
and Ollins’s 14-year-old cousin Calvin Ollins
, as well as 17-year-old Marcellius Bradford
, were arrested in January and February 1987. Police stated that Bradford and Calvin Ollins confessed, saying they ambushed Roscetti at random to get bus fare for Calvin Ollins to return home to the Cabrini-Green housing development. The false confessions were corroborated by the false testimony of Chicago police crime laboratory analyst Pamela Fish, who claimed that semen found on the victim’s body and undergarments could have belonged to three of the four defendants. Later examination of her notes by a DNA expert showed that none of the four men’s blood types matched the crime scene samples. The notes were never disclosed to the defense lawyers.
The Ollins cousins and Omar Saunders were tried separately as adults before different juries. They were all convicted and all were sentenced to life in prison.
Bradford pled guilty to kidnapping and received a sentence of only 12 years in exchange for testifying against Larry Ollins. Bradford was released in 1994 after serving six years.
In 2001, the Chicago Tribune began reinvestigating the case after an analysis of Fish’s testimony in these three trials as well as other trials revealed that she had falsely testified about the results of her blood-typing work on the biological evidence.
Bradford recanted his confession and his testimony against Ollins in an interview with the Tribune and said that he confessed after police physically abused him during his interrogation and threatened him with the death penalty.
The Tribune interviewed Sam Busch, who testified at Saunders’s trial that Saunders admitted the abduction, rape and murder. Busch recanted his testimony, saying he hoped to get the reward that was offered when the case went unsolved for more than three months. Another witness, Anthony Gilty, who testified against Larry Ollins and said that Ollins had admitted taking part in the crime, also recanted to the Tribune, saying police threatened to charge him with the crime and also offered him leniency on a pending charge.
DNA testing was performed in 2001 and 2002 and exonerated the four defendants. In 2002, a telephone tip led to the arrest of the actual killers, Duane Roach, 46, and Eddie Harris, 38, who pled guilty in exchange for 75-year sentences. Both men described on videotape how they abducted Roscetti as she parked her car near her residence and then took her in her car to a railway embankment where they raped and killed her.
The four innocent men then filed civil rights suits against the police. Saunders's claim was settled for $4 million.
— Maurice Possley