At about 8:42 p.m., on November 16, 1992, 41-year-old Jeffrey Lassiter, a drug dealer, and 37-year-old Sharon Haugabook, a prostitute, were fatally shot in Lassiter’s apartment on the North Side of Chicago, Illinois.
A neighbor who saw men leaving the apartment building identified one of them as Dennis Mixon. Police also learned that a few weeks earlier, Mixon and Lassiter got into an altercation over a VCR. Mixon could not be found, however.
On December 2, police officers saw 15-year-old Lewis Gardner
and 19-year-old Akia Phillips selling drugs on a street corner in the neighborhood of the double murder and arrested them. During interrogation, Gardner, who had an IQ of 70, said he got his drugs from 20-year-old Deon Patrick
and that Patrick had been involved in the murders of Lassiter and Haugabook. Gardner said he had acted as a lookout outside the building when the killings took place. According to the police, Phillips admitted that he, too, had been a lookout, and said he would help solve the murders.
Gardner and Phillips then implicated Mixon, Phillips’ brother Paul
, Patrick and three others—Rodney Mathews, Joseph Brown, and 17-year-old Daniel Taylor.
Detectives then picked up Mathews, Brown, and Patrick. Patrick was held in an interview room for more than 27 hours without food or the opportunity to sleep. He denied knowledge of the murders. He was handcuffed to a ring on the wall in the room and at one point, the chair he was sitting on was kicked away, so he sat on the floor with his arm outstretched. Patrick said his requests to summon his lawyer were ignored.
Patrick was repeatedly told the others had identified him as being involved.
At 2 a.m. on December 3, 1992, police detectives found Taylor, who had been taken from his mother at age 11 because of her drug use, in a state juvenile home and took him into custody. Three hours later, Taylor gave a confession that was transcribed by a court reporter.
In his confession, Taylor said that he, Mathews, Patrick and Mixon went to the apartment to collect a drug debt Lassiter owed to Mixon. Gardner, Brown and the Phillips brothers remained outside as lookouts. Taylor said that when Lassiter said he didn’t have the money, Patrick shot him—and then shot Haugabook as Taylor and Mixon held her arms. Prior to the shooting, Taylor said he met with the others in a park at 7 p.m. to plan their visit to Lassiter.
At one point, after Taylor gave his confession, he was brought to Patrick’s interview room to “identify” Patrick as being involved. Taylor urged Patrick to confess so “they could both go home.” An exhausted Patrick then broke down and, after 30 hours in custody, signed a handwritten confession.
That same night, Mathews, Brown, and Paul Phillips were arrested and gave recorded confessions that conformed to the statements given by Taylor and Patrick.
As Taylor was being taken to the police lockup, he told detectives that his confession was false and that he was in jail at the time of the murders after being arrested in a nearby park for fighting. Following up on Taylor’s claim that he was in jail at the time of the murders, police found jail records showing that Taylor had been arrested at 6:45 p.m. on November 16, 1992. A bond slip with Taylor’s signature was time-stamped at 10 p.m.—more than an hour after the murders.
On December 12—less than two weeks later—two police officers filed a belated report saying that on the night of the murders, they saw Taylor in an alley near the shooting at about 9:30 p.m.
Three months later, Mixon was arrested and police said he confessed as well. In his confession, Mixon said that he had met with Taylor and the others in a park just prior to the murders and they discussed going to the apartment to confront Lassiter.
Patrick went on trial in Cook County Circuit Court in March 1995. The primary prosecution witnesses were detectives who testified to the confession and the statements made by the co-defendants, including Taylor. Patrick denied being involved in the crime and said his confession was coerced.
On March 10, 1995, Patrick was convicted of first-degree murder, home invasion, armed robbery, attempted armed robbery, and conspiracy to commit murder and armed robbery. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Phillips and Gardner went on trial together that same month on charges of murder for acting as lookouts. They were convicted by a judge who heard the case without a jury. The prosecution’s evidence consisted almost solely of their confessions. They were each sentenced to 30 years in prison.
Taylor went on trial in Cook County Circuit Court in August 1995 on charges of murder, robbery and home invasion. By that time, Brown, Mathews and Akia Phillips were no longer in custody. Mathews had been acquitted by a jury after he testified his confession was coerced. The charges against Brown and Akia Phillips were dismissed—Brown because he was illegally arrested and Akia Phillips because the police improperly promised him leniency in return for this confession.
At Taylor’s trial, prosecutors presented his confession, as well as the testimony by police officers at the station where Taylor had been locked up on the evening of the shooting. The officers testified that it was likely that Taylor had signed the bond slip and was released prior to the shooting. They speculated that the slip was time-stamped at 10 p.m. by an officer who came on duty after Taylor was released.
The two officers, Sean Glinski and Michael Berti, who said they saw Taylor on the street—not in jail—shortly after the murders, also testified. They said that after hearing a radio call about the murders, they went to the scene and saw Taylor run into a nearby apartment, which turned out to be the residence of Akia and Paul Phillips. Glinski said he arrested Andrea Phillips, mother of Akia and Paul, for possession of cocaine and then drove Taylor to the youth shelter where they dropped him off at 10 p.m.
The prosecution also called Adrian Grimes, a convicted drug dealer, who testified that he saw Taylor in the park at about 7:30 p.m.—about an hour before the murders.
Taylor was convicted in September 1995 and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. His conviction was upheld on appeal.
In December 2001, the Chicago Tribune newspaper published a series of articles detailing false and coerced confessions obtained by Chicago police. In nearly 250 murder cases over a decade, defendants who were said to have confessed were either acquitted or their cases were dismissed. The series also included newly discovered evidence of Taylor’s innocence.
By then, Mixon had also been convicted. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Grimes, the drug dealer who said he saw Taylor in the park just before the murders, recanted and said he had lied to get leniency on a drug charge. The newspaper discovered that four months before officers Berti and Glinski wrote the report saying they saw Taylor in an alley just after the shooting, Berti had been accused by a judge of lying under oath in court.
Mixon admitted he had been present when Lassiter and Haugabook were killed and said that none of the seven others who gave confessions had been involved.
The newspaper found computer reports at the youth center that showed Taylor had returned to the facility at 3 a.m.—not 10 p.m. as Berti and Glinski claimed. And the newspaper also dug up the police lockup log book listing the names of everyone who was jailed that night. The newspaper located one of them, James Anderson, who recalled being in the lockup with Taylor on the night of the murders.
In response, the Cook County State’s Attorney said it conducted a re-investigation of the case, but concluded that Taylor was guilty.
Taylor filed numerous appeals based on the Tribune’s findings, but was unable to obtain a hearing. In 2011, Northwestern University’s Center on Wrongful Convictions filed a federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus alleging prosecutors had failed to disclose that prior to Taylor’s trial, police had interviewed Anderson and ignored his statement that he had been in the lockup with Taylor at the time of the shootings. The petition was dismissed, but in October 2011, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reinstated the petition.
While the case was pending, the Illinois Attorney General’s Office reviewed the State’s Attorney’s trial file and discovered pre-trial notes written by a prosecutor after Taylor was charged with the murders. The notes showed that seven different police officers—two of whom had testified at Taylor’s trial that Taylor was out of the lockup at the time of the murders—had confirmed that Taylor was in fact still in the lockup at the time of the murders. These notes were then turned over to the lawyers representing Taylor in federal court.
On June 28, 2013, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office filed a motion asking that Taylor’s conviction be vacated. The motion was granted, the charges were dismissed and Taylor was released after more than 20 years in prison.
On January 10, 2014, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office acknowledged that Patrick’s confession—in which he said he committed the crime with Taylor—was false. At the prosecution’s request, Patrick’s convictions were vacated. The prosecution then dropped the charges and Patrick was released.
On January 22, 2014, Cook County Circuit Court Chief Judge Paul P. Biebel Jr. awarded Patrick a certificate of innocence. On January 23, 2014, lawyers for Gardner and Phillips, who were released from prison on parole in 2007, filed a petition seeking to vacate their convictions.
On February 3, 2014, Taylor filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city of Chicago and Chicago police officers. On May 19, 2014, Patrick filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city of Chicago and Chicago police officers.
On June 24, 2014, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office told a judge it would not oppose the petition filed on behalf of Phillips and Gardner. The petition was then granted, the convictions were vacated and the prosecution dismissed the charges against both men.
– Maurice Possley