On February 28, 1997, for no apparent reason, an African American man who appeared to be in his early 20s and who was wearing black Velcro shoes, repeatedly slashed June Siler – a 24-year-old white nurse – in the face and neck, with a box cutter, as she waited for a bus near Chicago’s Michael Reese Hospital.
The next day, police arrested 41-year-old Robert Wilson at the same bus stop. From an array of photographs, Siler identified him as her attacker. Later, however, when she saw Wilson in the flesh, she said he was not the man — he was too old. Police then told her that Wilson had signed a confession, which led Siler to assume that her initial identification had been correct. The police did not tell her that an hour after Wilson’s arrest a similar attack occurred at a nearby bus stop. Nor did they tell her that a search of Wilson’s home had turned up neither Velcro shoes nor a box cutter.
During the next two weeks, four more such attacks occurred, all involving white victims, all in the same area. After the final one, on March 15, police caught the attacker running from the scene. He was Jerryco Wagner, a 21-year-old African American wearing black Velcro shoes. Wagner confessed to all of the attacks except the one to which Wilson had confessed — probably because the police did not ask him about it. Wagner was found unfit for trial and committed to a mental institution.
Before Wilson’s case came to trial on November 1, 1999, prosecutors disclosed the attacks to which Wagner confessed, but filed a motion to bar the defense from telling Wilson’s jury about them. Judge Kenneth J. Wadas, an ex-prosecutor, granted the prosecution motion on the purported ground that the later attacks were dissimilar to the Siler attack — the principal difference being that the weapons used did not include a box cutter. The jury found Wilson guilty, and Wadas sentenced him to 30 years.
Wilson lost his state appeals, but U.S. District Court Judge Ruben Castillo granted a writ of habeas corpus in January 2006. In November 2006, Chicago Tribune reporter Maurice Possley tracked down Siler, who told him that, in view of the new information, she had no doubt that Wilson was innocent.
After Possley’s article appeared on November 15, Wilson’s conviction was vacated and he was released on December 4, 2006. In 2007, Wilson filed a lawsuit against the Chicago Police Department, an assistant state’s attorney, the City of Chicago, and Cook County. In 2008, he was pardoned on the basis of innocence. His lawsuit was settled for $3.6 million in April 2012.
— Center on Wrongful Convictions