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Marcel Brown

Other Cook County Exonerations with Official Misconduct
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On the night of August 30, 2008, police responded to calls of shots fired in Amundsen Park on the west side of Chicago, Illinois. Officers surveyed the park and left. Witnesses later said that multiple groups of young people were in the park when the shooting started, and that 15-year-old Renard Branch Jr. had drawn a pistol and fired some of the shots.

The following morning, a Chicago Park District employee reporting for work found the body of 19-year-old Paris Jackson behind the field house in the park. He had been shot once.

Witnesses said that after the shooting, Branch got into a gold Chevy Malibu and left the scene. Police tracked down the car, as well as Branch’s cousin 18-year-old Marcel Brown, who was driving the car that night.

On September 3, 2008, Brown, who had no criminal record, was arrested at his home and taken to a Chicago police station. There, he was kept in an interrogation room for 34 hours. His video-recorded interrogation cumulatively totaled about 5 to 5 ½ hours.

On September 5, 2008, Brown was charged with first-degree murder under the state’s accountability law after detectives said he admitted knowing that Branch had a gun and was going to the park to shoot some people who were causing trouble for his sister and her friends. Branch was also charged with murder.

Brown and Branch went to trial in Cook County Circuit Court and chose to have the trial judge, Thomas Gainer, rather than a jury, decide the case.

The prosecution contended that on the night of the shooting, Branch’s sister, Taneshia, called Branch from the park. She said that other girls were harassing her and Brown’s sister, and they were going to fight. In response, Brown drove to the park with Branch and a third cousin, Terry Scott.

Eugene Stanciel testified that Branch walked over to Taneshia near the playground and swings, spoke to her briefly, and then pulled a gun and pointed it at Stanciel. Then, according to Stanciel, Branch lowered the gun, and began running toward a group of young men who were shooting dice near the field house. Stanciel said he heard several shots, but did not see Branch fire his gun. Stanciel said he saw the dice players scatter and run toward the back of the field house. He did not see anyone get shot.

Stanciel said he saw Brown in the park, but not at the playground or near the dice game when the shots were fired. He also said the first time he saw Brown that evening was after the shooting, running toward his car from a different direction than where the shooting occurred.

Marisol Ocampo, who was in the group of girls fighting with Taneshia and her friends, testified that she saw Branch fire several shots toward the dice players, but did not see anyone get shot.

Amanda Moore, a friend of Ocampo, testified that she heard as many as eight shots, but only saw Branch fire two shots. She said she saw Jackson, the victim, running away, but did not see him get shot.

Three witnesses testified that Brown never got out of his car when he pulled up at the park. One witness testified that Brown got out of his car, but never went past the entrance gate to the park.

Brown’s attorney, David Weiner, did not move to suppress Brown’s statements during the interrogation. He also did not offer into evidence the video recording of the interrogation. Instead, he stipulated to a detective’s report summarizing Brown’s statements. The report said that Brown ultimately admitted that he knew Branch had a gun when they drove to the park, and that Branch had said he was going to get the individuals who were harassing his sister.

A detective read the report, saying that Brown admitted that he, Branch, and Scott drove to the park after getting a call about the incident there. According to the detective, Brown said he saw Branch with a gun in his hand “waving it around.”

The report further said, “Brown stated that no one else had a gun in the park. Brown knew Branch had a gun and he admitted that Branch told him to lie” to police.

Brown, according to the detective’s summary, “knew Branch had a gun when he got in his car to go to the park. Brown stated that when Branch said he was going to (obscenity) them up, he knew Branch meant he was going to shoot them.” The summary also said that Brown quoted Branch as saying he was tired of people “messing with my sister. They’re going to die.”

On January 6, 2011, Judge Gainer convicted Branch and Brown of first-degree murder. At sentencing, in April 2011, Judge Gainer said, “I sat… listening to the evidence and I’m thinking the whole time I’m there—I’m saying, ‘Wow. This is a very, very, very weak case on Brown’—until I heard the statements and the statements put everything in a whole new light. Everything that Brown did that night when illuminated by the light of those statements changes.”

Judge Gainer then sentenced Brown to 35 years in prison. Branch was sentenced to 47 years in prison.

In March 2014, the Illinois Appellate Court upheld Brown’s conviction. The court rejected a defense argument that Brown’s trial attorney had provided an inadequate legal defense by failing to introduce the video recording of the interrogation and by stipulating to a police report summarizing the interrogation. The court ruled that because the video recording was not in evidence, it could not consider the argument.

Ultimately, Karen Daniel, director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University’s Pritzker School of Law, and attorney Greg Swygert filed a post-conviction petition seeking to vacate Brown’s conviction. The petition cited new evidence from witnesses that indicated there was more than one person shooting that night. In fact, it appeared that one of the dice players shot Jackson, who also was shooting dice.

The petition contended that Brown falsely implicated himself in the shooting after the lengthy interrogation wore him down to the point that he said what the detectives wanted to hear.

According to a transcript of the interrogation, Brown asked to speak to his mother seven times—and was denied every time. He repeatedly denied knowing that Branch had a gun. Brown told the detectives that he and Branch went to the park to get their sisters. While they were at the park, a teenager he knew as “Day Day” began shooting and they fled.

Brown said Day Day was the gunman at least a dozen times, but the detectives accused him of lying. They told Brown he would get 30 years in prison for something that Branch had done. The detectives later said he would get 35 years, and subsequently upped it to 45 years.

Gradually, Brown began change his account. At first he said that Branch had shot back at Day Day, but more than 40 times he said he did not know Branch had a gun until he pulled it out. The detectives continued to pressure him to admit that he knew Brown had the gun when they left to go to the park, and that Brown had threatened to kill people. Such an admission, the detectives knew, would implicate Brown under the murder accountability statute.

The detectives continually told Brown that he was in a position “to help” himself because he didn’t pull the trigger. As the interrogation continued, Brown gradually adapted his account to the account the detectives pressed upon him.

Brown asked if he could go home more than a dozen times. At one point, when he asked again, a detective told him that would be up to the prosecutor, but that “the truth is the best thing in the world for you.”

After 30 hours, Brown began asking what he could say to end the interrogation. After being told that Branch was charged with murder, he asked, “What can I do not to join him?”

When a detective told him to “tell the truth,” Brown replied, “What do you want to hear?”

At 10:37 p.m. on September 4, 2008, a prosecutor entered the interrogation room. When Brown insisted he did not know Branch had a gun and that he was scared, the prosecutor replied that his insistence made her think he was “scared” to tell the truth.

Brown replied, “I’m scared that, like, if I don’t—if I tell you that I didn’t see him with the gun, I didn’t know he had a gun, I’m going to jail. But if I tell you he had the gun, I’ll go home…that’s what I’m scared about.”

The prosecutor then said she was leaving, and if he changed his mind, Brown should let her know. When the prosecutor left, the video showed Brown curled up in a ball in a corner of the room, crying.

Not long after, a detective questioned Brown again about when he saw Branch with a gun. Brown said he did not see anything until Branch opened fire. The detective asked, “His actions told you that he might have had the gun or did have the gun?”

Brown replied, “That he did.”

Brown left the interrogation room after 1 a.m. on September 5, 2008.

The petition cited a report by Dr. Paul Good, a psychologist who had studied false confessions. Good said that numerous factors were present that made Brown at risk to make false statements, including the length of the interrogation, “which was an extreme stressor by any standards. Additional risk was contributed by some degree of sleep deprivation, dehydration and glucose depletion, all of which degraded Mr. Brown’s energy, coping resources and capacity for self-regulation.” Good also noted that Brown was only 18, had no experience in the criminal justice system, and had “limited intellectual resources.”

The petition also noted that in 2015, Eugene Stanciel recanted his trial testimony that he saw Branch and Brown in the park, and that he saw Branch with a gun. In his recantation, Stanciel said that he did not see them in the park. He said that he did hear gunshots, and that at least two guns were involved. He said he gave false testimony because police threatened to take away his children and suggested he would be charged with the murder.

The petition also said that approximately three hours after Brown was arrested—and well before he made any statements that implicated him in the crime—an attorney hired by his mother came to the police station and asked to speak to Brown, but was not allowed. Brown’s mother said that she withdrew funds from the ATM located in the police station. Her financial records—which were presented at the post-conviction hearing—corroborated her account. The video recording of the interrogation showed that Brown was never informed that the attorney came to see him.

The refusal to allow the attorney to speak to Brown was significant, the petition noted, because a 1994 Illinois Supreme Court decision held that in such circumstances, a defendant’s statements after that moment should be suppressed and not allowed into evidence.

In June 2018, Judge Gainer found that the police had refused to allow the attorney to see Brown in violation of the 1994 decision. The judge vacated Brown’s conviction and ordered a new trial. The ruling meant that all of Brown’s statements implicating himself in the shooting could not be presented at a second trial. The judge did not address Stanciel’s recantation or the new evidence showing that the shots fired came from the dice players, including Day Day—as Brown had asserted from the outset.

On July 18, 2018, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office announced that it was not appealing the ruling. The prosecutor dismissed the charges and Brown was released.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 7/24/2018
State:Illinois
County:Cook
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2008
Convicted:2011
Exonerated:2018
Sentence:35 years
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:18
Contributing Factors:False Confession, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No