On October 4, 1980, 24-year-old Karen Phillips was found dead in her Oak Park, Illinois apartment. She had been sexually assaulted and beaten to death. Coincidentally, Steven Linscott, a bible study student and neighbor of Phillips’, had a dream that same night in which he saw a woman beaten to death. Friends and family suggested that Linscott share details of his dream with local authorities and, two days after the murder, Linscott contacted the police in the hope that his dream might help them identify the killer of Karen Phillips. At the direction of the police, he provided both written and recorded statements of his dream, as well as hair, blood, and saliva samples. Although there were relatively few similarities and several striking dissimilarities between the dream and the crime, police interpreted his dream as a “confession” and Linscott quickly became the sole suspect in the murder case.
Linscott was arrested on November 25, 1980, and charged with murder and rape. At his 1982 trial, prosecutors claimed that semen recovered from Phillips could have come only from a man with Linscott’s relatively rare blood type, although in fact the semen could have come from a sizeable majority of the male population. A state forensic scientist testified that several hairs found on the victim’s body, bed, and carpet were consistent with Linscott’s hair. On June 16, the jury found him not guilty of rape, but guilty of murder, and he was sentenced to 40 years in prison by Cook County Circuit Court Judge Adam N. Stillo.
On August 7, 1985, the Illinois Appellate Court reversed Linscott’s conviction based on prosecutors’ false statements to the jury. Although the prosecution appealed, Linscott was released on bond. The following year, the Illinois Supreme Court reversed the decision of the Appellate Court and remanded the case to that court for review of issues that were not decided on appeal, specifically testing of the hair samples.
On July 29, 1987, the Illinois Appellate Court again reversed Linscott’s conviction, based on prosecutorial misconduct. On January 31, 1991, the Supreme Court affirmed the Appellate Court’s decision, setting the stage for a retrial. In preparation for the new trial, the prosecution conducted DNA tests on the crime-scene evidence. The testing revealed that the semen found in the victim was not from Linscott.
After three years in jail and seven years on bond, all charges against Linscott were dismissed on July 16, 1992. A decade later, in December 2002, Linscott received a pardon based on innocence from Governor George Ryan, which entitled him to $60,150 in compensation from the state.
— Center on Wrongful Conviction