In June 1985, the 14-year-old adopted daughter of Roy and Emmaline Williams ran away from their home on Chicago’s South Side to the home of her former foster mother. There, the girl claimed that 43-year-old Emmaline had sexually assaulted her that day and that more than a year earlier, in April 1984 when the girl was 13, Roy had raped her as Emmaline held her down.
On June 17, the couple went to a Chicago police station for questioning. There, after they were questioned by Detective Joseph Lux, Roy signed a statement admitting to assaulting the girl. Emmaline was confronted with the statement signed by Roy and said that if Roy had made a statement, “it must be so.”
The couple went on trial together, represented by the same attorney, in December 1986 before a Cook County Circuit Court judge who heard the case without a jury. The trial was a brief affair. The only witnesses who testified were the girl, Detective Lux, and Roy and Emmaline Williams. The only physical evidence presented was a letter the girl said she wrote, but never mailed, two weeks after the 1984 incident that detailed that assault.
The girl testified that Roy and Emmaline adopted her in 1983, when she was 11 and that she lived with the couple’s biological daughter, Tanya, and several foster children. She testified that when she was thirteen, in 1984, Roy raped her, and both Roy and Emmaline sexually molested her. She testified that she told Tanya, then 19, of the incident, but that Tanya did not believe her. The girl also testified that she drafted, but failed to mail, a letter describing the incident approximately two weeks after it occurred. In June 1985, she fled to the home of her former foster mother after an argument with Emmaline. She claimed that she fled the home after Emmaline became angry with the way she was mopping the kitchen floor and not only beat her, but also sexually molested her. Her former foster mother informed the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, which notified the police.
Lux testified that Roy admitted assaulting the girl and signed a statement that also was signed by a prosecutor. Lux said that when he confronted Emmaline with the statement, she replied that if Roy said it happened, “It must be so.”
Emmaline and Roy both testified in their own defense and denied ever assaulting the girl. They also denied making any admissions and claimed that Roy’s confession was not true. Roy testified that he signed the statement when Lux told him that a “white judge from the suburbs” would never believe the denial of a black man. Roy also said that the officer told him if he admitted committing the crime, the worst punishment he would receive would be probation. Emmaline denied that she admitted anything.
In December 1986, Cook County Circuit Court Judge Arthur J. Cieslik convicted Roy of rape and Emmaline of taking indecent liberties with a child. Roy was sentenced to 19 years in prison and Emmaline was sentenced to 12 years in prison.
In 1989, after her conviction was upheld by the Illinois appellate courts, Emmaline filed a federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus in U.S. District Court in Chicago. In September 1994, U.S. District Judge James Holderman issued the writ, holding that the lawyer who represented Roy and Emmaline at trial had failed to call witnesses who would have undermined the girl’s credibility, and failed to investigate the case at all. In October 1994, Holderman ordered Emmaline released on bond.
In July 1995, the Seventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals upheld Holderman’s ruling and ordered Emmaline retried or the charges dismissed.
The appeals court recited a litany of mistakes and failures by Lincoln Beauchamp, trial attorney for Roy and Emmaline:
Beauchamp failed to present character witnesses in favor of Roy and Emmaline, despite the existence of well-documented files at the Department of Children and Family Services, which contained favorable assessments of their fitness as parents because of their prior involvement as foster parents.
Beauchamp also failed to call witnesses who would have cast doubt on the girl’s reputation for truthfulness. The girl’s school files characterized her as “an inveterate liar” and suggested that she “had a problem telling the truth.”
The appeals court also noted that Beauchamp did not call the couple’s biological child, Tanya, to determine whether the girl in fact had in fact mentioned the incident to Tanya, as she had testified she did. Beauchamp also failed to obtain medical records of an examination of the girl that indicated the rape may not have taken place.
Beauchamp did not interview any other occupants of the home or of the apartment building where the family lived, despite evidence that none of these occupants or residents heard an outcry or other manifestation of the alleged struggle. Beauchamp did not move to discover any of the prosecution evidence and did not file any pretrial motions.
Although the prosecution had provided Beauchamp with a copy of the girl’s letter, he did not read it prior to trial, and he was not even aware that he had a copy of the letter at trial, the appeals court said. When it was offered in evidence, Beauchamp did not object to the admission of the letter—instead, he only made an erroneous complaint that he had not been given a copy of it.
Beauchamp made no attempt to exclude Roy’s confession. Nor did he attempt to limit the use of the confession to Roy himself, so the prosecution used it against Emmaline as well. He failed to complain about the absence of testimony from the prosecutor who helped prepare Roy’s confession. And he never asked why Emmaline’s alleged admission—“It must be so”—had not been reduced to writing, or argued that the failure to do so undermined credibility of Officer Lux’s testimony.
In August 1995, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office elected not to retry the case and the charge was dismissed. Roy also filed a federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus, but the petition was denied after U.S. District Judge James Alesia found that Beauchamp’s representation of Roy was reasonable.
– Maurice Possley
The National Registry of Exonerations is a project of the Newkirk Center for Science & Society at University of California Irvine, the University of Michigan Law School and Michigan State University College of Law. It was founded in 2012 in conjunction with the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law. The Registry provides detailed information about every known exoneration in the United States since 1989—cases in which a person was wrongly convicted of a crime and later cleared of all the charges based on new evidence of innocence. The Registry also maintains a more limited database of known exonerations prior to 1989.
We welcome new information from any source about exonerations already on our list and about cases not in the Registry that might be exonerations.