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Bernard Mims

Other Cook County CIU Exonerations
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Shortly after midnight on October 12, 2000, a security guard at the Rosenwald apartment building on 47th Street in Chicago was gunned down as he stood near the front entrance. The security guard was identified as 33-year-old Dwayne Baker, an off-duty Cook County Sheriff’s deputy.

Witnesses said a gold or tan-colored van or SUV stopped in front of the building and two men fired shots, one of them from an assault rifle. Two other sheriff’s deputies were present—28-year-old Edward Ross, who was working with Baker, and 33-year-old Darrell Garrett, who was not working but had stopped by visit them. Garrett and Baker were not shot and managed to fire back, but the SUV escaped. A 20-year-old bystander, Catrice Davis, was wounded in her calf.

Police found casings of .38 caliber and .45 caliber bullets near Baker’s vehicle, behind which Ross and Garrett took cover and returned fire. The other casings, which were from an assault rifle, were found in the street.

At the time, the Rosenwald building was in an area of high narcotics trafficking and street gang activity controlled by the Gangster Disciples street gang. However, the building had been targeted for takeover the Black Disciples street gang.

About 10 minutes before the shooting, Kenneth Jones, a high-ranking member of the Gangster Disciples who oversaw gang activity and drug sales at the Rosenwald, arrived at the building and went inside to meet a friend. Jones had been a target of the Black Disciples and in the weeks leading up to Baker’s shooting, Black Disciples gang members had twice tried to assassinate him.

Numerous witnesses, including Garrett and Ross, were shown photographic lineups in the weeks after Baker was murdered, but no one identified the gunmen. Although most of the photographs included in the lineups were members of the Black Disciples, police also included a photograph of 20-year-old Bernard Mims, who was a member of the Latin Kings street gang.

Mims was well known to police in the area. In July 2000—three months before Baker was killed— Chicago police arrested Mims for trespassing in a public housing development a few blocks from the Rosenwald and claimed that he resisted arrest.

Prosecutors dismissed the trespassing charge and in 2001, Mims filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the officers. He claimed that when the officers first approached, he was outside the building but the officers forced him inside where they kicked and punched him repeatedly before arresting him on a phony trespassing charge. Mims suffered a broken jaw, a broken finger and numerous cuts and abrasions.

In June 2004, the city of Chicago settled the lawsuit for $100,000.

Less than a month later, on July 7, 2004, the police arrested Mims and charged him with the first-degree murder of Baker and three counts of the attempted murder of Ross, Garrett and Davis. The arrest was based on two witness identifications—both made more than a year after the shooting.

Mims went on trial in May 2006 in Cook County Circuit Court. Mims chose to have Judge Michael Toomin decide his case without a jury.

Thomasina McKee identified Mims as the shooter, but her identification was questionable. She testified that when she saw Mims fire the shots, she was 80 feet away and smoking marijuana in the back seat of a car. She had not spoken to police about the case until June 2001 when she was arrested on a warrant for violating her probation for a 1997 narcotics conviction. She was shown a photographic lineup and selected Mims as the gunman. She said she knew him as “Little Burn,” although she had never met him. McKee also admitted that in October 2004, the prosecution had arranged for her to move out of Illinois and paid her $1,935 in living expenses.

Wallace Fields, a member of the Gangster Disciples, also identified Mims as the gunman, though his identification was questionable as well. To get him to come to court, police had to arrest Fields and he testified that police treated him “like an animal.” Fields ultimately testified that he was about four or five car lengths away from where Baker was shot and that he was crouching down on the curb, talking to a friend who was seated in a car. Fields picked Mims out of a photographic lineup in March 2004—more than three years after the shooting.

The defense presented evidence that on the day of the shooting, Mims was home recuperating from a bullet wound in his groin, a broken ankle and a broken wrist. Donna Eason, a certified nursing assistant, testified that she and Mims and their five children were living with Mims’s father near 116th and Carpenter Streets, several miles from the shooting at the Rosenwald. Eason said she had taken two weeks off from work to care for Mims.

On May 16, 2006, Judge Toomin convicted Mims of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted murder. The prosecution presented no evidence about the wounding of Catrice Davis, so Mims was acquitted of that charge of attempted murder. Judge Toomin sentenced Mims to 95 years in prison.

Mims’s convictions were upheld on appeal, but his sentence was eventually modified to 90 years in prison due to sentencing errors. In June 2014, Mims’s new attorney, Kathleen Zellner, filed a post-conviction petition seeking to vacate Mims’s convictions.

The petition claimed that before Mims’s trial, prosecutors disclosed to his defense attorney, Daniel Franks, that during the police investigation of the shooting, detectives recorded telephone conversations among members of the Black Disciples. They learned that gang members said that a high-ranking member of the Black Disciples known as Taboo McNeal was the gunman. A gang member had told a detective that “Taboo McNeal killed a policeman at the Rosenwald building” and escaped in a sport utility vehicle.

Another gang member told police that two other Black Disciples, Dwayne Chester and Michael Sardin, were in the vehicle with McNeal. The petition said that a third gang member told police that Sardin had admitted participating in the shooting that killed Baker. The gang member had been given a polygraph examination about his statements and the examiner said no deception was indicated.

All of this information was disclosed to Franks prior to the trial by the prosecution.

The petition further claimed that Franks, in violation of legal ethics, was representing McNeal at the same time he was defending Mims, but had not disclosed his representation of McNeal to Judge Toomin, who presided over the trial, or to Mims. The petition claimed that Franks did not investigate McNeal, Sardin or Chester as the gunmen because of his representation of McNeal.

The petition also identified a new witness, Margaret Jalali, who said that she was sitting in her car in a gas station directly across from the Rosenwald when a gold-colored vehicle pulled up. She said she saw Michael Sardin get out of the vehicle and begin firing a long-barreled weapon at the apartment building. Jalali provided a sworn statement saying that the day after the shooting, Sardin confronted her and threatened to kill her if she told anyone what she had seen.

The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unit began a re-investigation of the case. According to Zellner, the prosecution reviewed all of the medical records relating to Mims’s gunshot wound and interviewed three of Mims’s cousins who were at his father’s house when Mims was recuperating. The prosecution offered Mims a deal in which the convictions would be vacated if he would plead guilty and serve one more year in prison. Mims rejected that offer.

Five weeks later, on October 27, 2016, Mims’s convictions were vacated and the prosecution dismissed the charges. A spokeswoman for State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez said that Mims’s medical condition “was certainly a factor” in deciding to dismiss the case. The spokeswoman said Franks’s representation of McNeal at the same time he represented Mims was “another troubling issue.”

“We conducted a lengthy investigation into this case and considered all existing evidence, and based upon that review, we made the determination to dismiss the case in the interests of justice,” the spokeswoman said.

Mims was awarded a certificate of innocence and $188,000 in state compensation.

In June 2017, Mims was arrested in DeKalb County, Illinois on a charge of aggravated battery.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 11/1/2016
Last Updated: 6/22/2017
State:Illinois
County:Cook
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Attempted Murder
Reported Crime Date:2000
Convicted:2006
Exonerated:2016
Sentence:95 years
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:20
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No