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Larod Styles

Other Cook County CIU Exonerations
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At about 6:30 p.m. on December 4, 1995, two men looked at automobiles on two adjacent car lots—Elegant Auto and Prestige Auto—at the corner of 70th Street and Western Avenue on Chicago’s southwest side. After speaking to a salesperson at Elegant Auto and examining two Pontiac Bonnevilles, they also examined a Bonneville at Prestige Auto, and then left.

They returned less than an hour later, went straight into the office of Elegant Auto, and began shooting. Thirty-year-old Khaled Ibrahim and 32-year-old Yousef Ali—two of the owners—were killed. The gunmen threatened, but did not kill two other employees—Frank Neira and Ali Ali. They grabbed keys and went outside to try to start two cars, but the keys would not fit. They came back and got more keys before fleeing with a green Chevrolet Impala and a white Pontiac Bonneville.

Chicago police evidence technicians found eight prints “suitable for comparison” from two of the cars the gunmen had touched—a 1992 white Pontiac Bonneville in the Prestige Auto lot and a 1992 green Pontiac Bonneville in the Elegant Auto lot.

Police also found a Buick parked on the street next to Elegant Auto with its motor still running. The car, which had been reported stolen earlier that day, had been hotwired. Four usable fingerprints were recovered from that car.

At 2 a.m., about five hours later, the two cars stolen from the Elegant Auto lot—the green Impala and the white Bonneville—were found at 7911 South Ingleside Avenue, about 5 miles away on Chicago’s southeast side. Police found three stickers that had been peeled from the car windows, which said: “Luxury Car,” “Many Extras,” and “92.” Six usable prints were found from the exterior and interior of the cars, and nine prints were collected from the front and back of the stickers.

In total, police collected four palm prints and 23 fingerprints.

On December 5, Chicago detectives arrested 17-year-old Troshawn McCoy based on an anonymous tip. After an interrogation led by Detective James Cassidy, McCoy confessed to acting as a lookout in the crime along with 15-year-old LaShawn Ezell. McCoy’s confession said he and Ezell came to the lot with two others—19-year-old Charles Johnson and 16-year-old Larod Styles—in Johnson’s black Chevrolet Caprice. According to the confession, Styles and Johnson, who had a gun, went inside and then McCoy heard six shots.

McCoy knew Ezell, Johnson, and Styles and once lived in the same neighborhood, but he had moved away and they were no longer friends. A few months before the crime, McCoy had made a return visit to the neighborhood and got into a fight with Ezell. Johnson and Styles were present at the fight, during which McCoy's nose was broken.

By the end of that day, Johnson, Styles, and Ezell were in custody. All three, police said, confessed and implicated each other. Johnson asserted that he was given a statement to sign that he believed was his release papers, but he disavowed it as soon as he discovered it was a confession. All were charged with murder and armed robbery. Styles, Ezell and McCoy—all under 18—were charged as adults.

Despite the confessions, all four later denied involvement in the crime.

Johnson and Styles went to trial in January 1998 in Cook County Circuit Court. Although they were tried together, they each had a separate jury. The prosecution claimed the crime was a robbery gone awry. According to the confessions—which were the cornerstone of the prosecution’s case—Styles had gone to the lot earlier in the day and offered to buy a car for $400 so he could use the transmission for another car belonging to his mother. When his offer was refused, he and Johnson returned to commit a robbery and shot the owners when they resisted.

An employee of Prestige Auto, which was located adjacent to Elegant Auto, identified Johnson and Styles as the two customers who came to the lot, examined and touched some cars, and left about a half hour before the shooting.

No physical or forensic evidence linked them to the crime. None of the finger or palm prints was linked to Johnson or Styles, although the four prints from the hotwired Buick were reported to have been lost before being compared.

The fingerprints from the stickers from the two stolen cars were not presented as evidence at the trial. In fact, the prosecutor, Assistant State’s Attorney Brian Sexton, had sent those prints for examination in August 1996—more than a year before the trial. Although those prints were not matched to Johnson (or any of the other defendants), the existence of those prints and the negative results were never revealed to the four defendants’ defense lawyers.

Years later, lawyers for Johnson and the other defendants would successfully argue that any prints on the backside of those stickers that did not belong to anyone at Elegant Auto almost certainly had been left by whoever stole the cars after the murders.

On January 15, 1998, Styles’s jury convicted him of first-degree murder and armed robbery. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole. On January 20, 1998, Johnson’s jury convicted him of first-degree murder and armed robbery. He also was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Ten months later, on November 11, 1998, a jury convicted Ezell of armed robbery. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison. McCoy also went to trial that fall, but a mistrial was declared when the jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict. On December 21, 1998, McCoy pled guilty to first-degree murder and was sentenced to 55 years in prison.

A decade later, after losing his appeals, Johnson, with the help of the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University’s law school and lawyers from the firm Kirkland & Ellis, reached an agreement with the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office. A court order was issued allowing fingerprint expert Kenneth Moses to examine the fingerprints in the case.

Forensic quality scans were made of the 10 fingerprints and four palm prints from the stolen cars and the cars in the auto lots, as well as the nine prints from the stickers. The prints were also resubmitted to the Chicago police fingerprint and palm print databases and the Illinois State Police fingerprint database. In addition, the prosecution discovered the four fingerprints from the hotwired Buick found with its motor running outside of Elegant Auto, which had been believed lost.

The re-examination of the finger and palm prints revealed that the prints from the cars touched by the perpetrators in the Prestige Auto lot belonged to Lamont Campbell and Rodney Graham. Fingerprints found on one of the cars examined by the perpetrators belonged to Davion Allen. Prints lifted from the stickers from the stolen cars belonged to one of the victims, Khaled Ibrahim, and to Davion Allen. The prints from the hotwired Buick were linked to Floyd Blaxon.

Davion, Blaxon, Graham, and Campbell all had criminal records and some had gang ties, according to defense lawyers. None of the prints was linked to Johnson, Ezell, Styles, or McCoy.

A re-investigation showed that Allen, whose prints were found on a car in the Elegant lot and on the adhesive side of one of the stickers from one of the stolen cars, lived at 7912 South Drexel Avenue, which was only a short distance from where the stolen cars were found.

In addition, a new motive emerged for the murders. Frank Neira, an employee at Elegant Auto who was in the office when Ibrahim and Ali were murdered but who did not testify at any of the trials, revealed that a local drug dealer had accused Ibrahim and Ali of defrauding him in the sale of a Mercedes Benz and had threatened to kill them. Neira said that Ibrahim and Ali had warned all employees to be on their guard, to stay on the grounds of the lot, and not to congregate in the office.

In addition, Sameer Ali, Ibrahim’s cousin, revealed for the first time that he also had been aware of escalating threats of violence against the victims by a drug dealer who claimed he had been cheated.

In 2013, the Illinois Appellate Court ordered a post-conviction hearing on the new evidence. In July 2016, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office conviction integrity unit agreed that Johnson’s and Styles’s convictions be vacated. At the time, the prosecution said it intended to retry Johnson and Styles, who were released on bond on September 26, 2016.

A new prosecutor was elected in late 2016, and the new head of the conviction integrity unit re-reviewed the cases. Ultimately, the convictions of Ezell and McCoy were also vacated and on February 15, 2017, the prosecution dismissed the charges against all four defendants.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 3/1/2017
State:Illinois
County:Cook
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Robbery
Reported Crime Date:1995
Convicted:1998
Exonerated:2017
Sentence:Life without parole
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:16
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, False Confession, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No