On April 30, 1995, a man wearing a ski mask and armed with a pistol burst through the door of a home at 11725 S. Wentworth Avenue in Chicago at about 1:30 p.m. The gunman ordered Alvin Wyatt against the wall, forced Paul Harris to the floor and confronted Leon Stroud, a steel worker who ran a lively business of bootlegging cigarettes, alcohol and rock cocaine.
The gunman demanded money and when the 53-year-old Stroud refused, the gunman fired a shot into the floor and took Stroud's wallet. The gunman then ran to the doorway, chased by Stroud, who demanded his wallet back. A struggle ensued and Stroud was fatally shot.
Matthew Rollins, a neighbor, told police he saw Wyatt and another man in a gangway down the street from Stroud’s home not long before the shooting. Rollins said he saw Wyatt leave the gangway and head toward Stroud’s home and the other man followed not long after. Rollins said that after the shooting, he saw Wyatt leave from the side of Stroud’s home and return shortly after.
Police soon arrested Wyatt based on Rollins’ tip. During questioning, Wyatt at first denied any involvement in the crime, but after he was told he would be charged, he told police that he and 20-year-old Alprentiss Nash went to the home intending to rob Stroud because he was known to have large amounts of cash there because of his bootlegging business.
Nash was arrested that same day and placed in a lineup. Rollins identified Nash as the man he saw in a gangway next to the house in conversation with Wyatt just before the shooting, who then followed Wyatt towards Stroud’s home.
Harris also identified Nash, but only on the basis of Nash’s voice and physical build because he did not see the gunman’s face.
Wyatt agreed to testify against Nash. In return, he was allowed to plead guilty to armed robbery and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Nash was charged with murder, armed robbery, attempted armed robbery and home invasion.
He went on trial in Cook County Circuit Court in January 1997.
Rollins identified Nash in court as the man he saw talking with Wyatt. Harris testified that he went to Stroud’s to buy a cigarette because all he had was 25 cents. He said Wyatt let him in and not long after there was a knock at the door, a commotion, and a gunman came in and pushed Wyatt against the wall and told Harris and Stroud to get on the floor.
Harris said the gunman patted him down and then told Stroud to “give it up.” Then there was a shot fired into the floor and the gunman ran toward the front door. When Stroud chased the gunman, he was shot and killed.
Police recovered a ski mask from a fence post near the side of Stroud’s home. Tests failed to reveal any hairs that could have been used to attempt to link Nash to the mask. Two bullets were recovered, but no weapon was ever found.
Wyatt testified that he was taking out the trash at Stroud’s, where he hung out almost every day, when he encountered Nash in the alley. After refusing Nash’s offer to sell him drugs, Wyatt said that Nash told him he was thinking about robbing Stroud.
Wyatt said he then went back into Stroud’s house. He testified that Stroud was bagging cocaine when Harris arrived to buy a cigarette. Not long after, he said, Nash came in with a gun, wearing a mask.
Wyatt testified that he was pushed against the wall and then forced to lie face down on the floor as were Harris and Stroud. He said Nash patted him and Harris down and then fired a shot through the floor. He heard Nash patting down Stroud and then Nash ran to the door, pursued by Stroud. He said he heard, but did not see, Stroud get shot.
When Nash was arrested, he had a $100 bill and two $50 bills in his pocket.
Nash testified on his own behalf and denied being involved. He said he had made about $600 earlier in the day by selling drugs to Wyatt, Rollins, and Harris. He said he was a member of the Black Discipline Nation street gang and that he knew Wyatt, Rollins and Harris. He claimed they belonged to a rival gang, the Gangster Disciples.
Nash said he had been to Stroud’s house in the past, but was not there that day. He said that after selling the drugs, he took a cab to Maxwell Street, where he shopped for clothing. He was unable to provide a receipt for the clothing.
On January 17, 1997, the jury convicted Nash on all counts. On March 12, 1997, Nash, who had prior convictions for drug selling and violating probation, was sentenced to 80 years in prison.
His conviction was upheld on appeal. In 2007, a post-conviction request for DNA testing of the ski mask was filed by Nash's attorney, Kathleen Zellner. Though it was dismissed, Zellner appealed and on March 5, 2010, the Illinois Court of Appeals ordered the testing to be done.
After the tests excluded Nash as the source of the DNA on the mask, the Cook County State’s Attorney reinvestigated the case. During an interview, Wyatt, who is no longer in prison, denied any involvement in the robbery and murder.
Wyatt claimed, however, that when he and Nash were being held prior to Nash’s trial, Nash admitted to the shooting, but claimed it was an accident.
The DNA profile from the mask was submitted to the FBI DNA database and was matched to the DNA of a convicted drug dealer who was serving a sentence for drug dealing in an Illinois prison. The inmate denied any involvement in the crime.
On August 30, 2012, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office filed a motion to vacate Nash’s convictions. The motion was granted, the charges were dismissed and Nash was released after 17 ½ years in prison.
In March 2014, Nash filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the City of Chicago.
– Maurice Possley