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Larry Gillard

Other Chicago DNA Exonerations
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At about 10:30 p.m. on May 19, 1981, a 25-year-old woman coming home from work was attacked in the vestibule of her apartment building in Chicago, Illinois. The woman said a man grabbed her by the neck, held a knife to her throat and told her to hand over her money and the four rings she was wearing.

The woman said she gave the man her jewelry and $3 from her purse and then he ordered her to open the door to the interior of the building. When she screamed, the man cut her beneath her eye. He then forced her onto the landing inside the building, tied her hands, gagged her mouth and raped her before fleeing.

A week later, at about 1:30 a.m. on May 26, 1981, Chicago police sergeant Patrick Heenan, who lived about four blocks from the victim's apartment, heard a woman scream and cry for help from the house next to his which was owned by another police officer. Heenan later testified that he looked out his window and saw a man later identified as 22-year-old Larry Gillard leave the side door of his neighbor’s home carrying a metal ski pole.

Heenan said he watched Gillard walk out of sight. Heenan went outside and ran up to Gillard, who was urinating in the alley. Heenan stated that Gillard swung the ski pole at him, knocked him down and injured his foot, hand and back. Heenan said he got up and with the help of his neighbor, who had come outside, arrested Gillard.

Because of the proximity of his arrest to the rape, Gillard was put in a lineup and the rape victim identified him as her attacker, although after the rape, she said her attacker was about 4 feet 10 inches tall and 110 pounds. Gillard was 5 feet 7 inches tall and weighed 160 pounds. Gillard was charged with rape, armed robbery, and unlawful restraint. He was also charged with assaulting Heenan, but that charge was later dismissed.

In January 1982, Gillard went to trial in Cook County Circuit Court. The victim identified Gillard as her attacker and Heenan testified about Gillard’s arrest.

Christine Kokocinski, a Chicago police department serologist, testified that she analyzed stains from the victim’s coat and determined there was seminal fluid. She said she also analyzed blood and saliva samples from Gillard and performed an ABO test. She told the jury that her testing showed that Gillard was a non-secretor and that a test performed on the semen stains from the victim’s coat showed that the person who committed the rape was also a non-secretor. She said seventy-eight percent of the population were “secretors—meaning that certain chemical properties found in a person's blood were also found in his saliva and other bodily fluids, including seminal fluid. The remaining 22 percent of the population were non-secretors.” Therefore, according to Kokocinski, both Gillard and the rapist fell within the same 22 percent of the population known as non-secretors.

Kokocinski further testified that to confirm the ABO test results, she conducted another test known as the Lewis test. She testified that she made no memorandum or report regarding the Lewis test because it merely was confirmatory to the ABO test. This test involved a comparison between the chemical properties of the Gillard’s blood and the semen found on the victim’s coat. She testified that Gillard’s Lewis phenotype was consistent with the phenotype of the semen donor and this phenotype appeared in only 20 percent of the population. Kokocinski then multiplied the frequency given by the ABO test by the frequency given by the Lewis test, allowing her to conclude that Gillard was among only 4.4 percent of the black population whose blood properties were consistent with those of the semen donor.

However, because the ABO test and the Lewis test are not statistically independent, it was improper to multiply them, an error that was not discovered at the time.

On January 21, 1982, the jury deliberated for an hour before convicting Gillard of rape, armed robbery and unlawful restraint. He was sentenced to 24 years in prison.

Subsequently, the Illinois Appellate Court denied Gillard’s appeal. His appellate lawyer decided not to petition the Illinois Supreme Court to challenge that ruling. Gillard then filed a federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus, but that was denied in 1992.

In 2008, the Exoneration Project at the University of Chicago Law School obtained DNA testing that excluded Gillard as the perpetrator and identified the actual rapist. Gillard’s conviction was dismissed and he was released on May 26, 2009.

On August 27, 2009, Judge Paul Biebel Jr., presiding judge of the Criminal Division of the Cook County Circuit Court, granted Gillard a certificate of innocence, qualifying him for $170,000 in compensation for his wrongful conviction.

Gillard filed a civil rights lawsuit against the city of Chicago. During the litigation of the lawsuit, Gillard secured additional forensic testing. Based on that testing, his forensic experts opined that even the more basic testing methods available at the time of trial would have excluded Gillard as a contributor of the biological evidence found in the victim's rape kit.

Whether Kokocinski’s testimony at Gillard’s trial was the result of a deliberate misstatement or institutional incompetence was unclear, though Gillard’s lawyers also discovered an audit of the Chicago Crime Lab from the relevant time period suggesting that similar errors were prevalent.

In January 2014, the city of Chicago agreed to pay $6.375 million to settle the lawsuit.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date:  Before June 2012
Last Updated: 1/27/2020
State:Illinois
County:Cook
Most Serious Crime:Sexual Assault
Additional Convictions:Robbery
Reported Crime Date:1981
Convicted:1982
Exonerated:2009
Sentence:24 years
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of reported crime:22
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, False or Misleading Forensic Evidence, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:Yes