On April 23, 2007, Jerry Miller became the 200th person in the United States to be exonerated by DNA. He had spent more than 24 years in prison and one year on parole for a rape he did not commit.
The crime occurred shortly after 9:30 p.m. on September 16, 1981, as a 44-year-old white female walked to her car on the roof deck of a garage near downtown Chicago. As she opened the car door, a black man pushed her into the car, beat, robbed, and raped her. He then forced her into the trunk of the car and tried to drive out of the garage, but the garage cashier recognized the victim’s car and told the driver to back up. When another cashier approached, the rapist fled on foot and garage employees freed the victim, who was hospitalized. Doctors determined that the violent nature of the assault made it impossible to collect a rape kit. However, they did find blood and semen on some of her clothing, and these items were taken into custody as evidence.
The victim informed the police that she was not certain she would be able to identify her assailant because she had been ordered to keep her eyes closed. However, both of the garage attendants provided descriptions of the driver of the car and worked with a police artist to create a composite sketch. A police officer who saw the sketch thought it resembled Miller, whom the officer claimed to have seen several days earlier looking into the window of a parked car. Although 22-year-old Miller had no criminal record, he was arrested and put into a police lineup. The two garage employees identified him as the man they had seen jump out of the victim’s car and flee. The victim failed to identify Miller from a photograph which she was shown in the hospital, but at trial she testified that he looked like the man who raped her, although his facial hair was different.
During the jury trial, Miller and his father testified that they were watching a pay-per-view boxing match between Tommy Hearns and Sugar Ray Leonard at the time of the crime. However, on October 1, 1982, Miller was convicted of rape, robbery, aggravated battery, and aggravated kidnapping, and sentenced to 45 years.
Over the next 18 years, Miller lost all his appeals. Finally, in 2005, the Innocence Project accepted his case and ordered DNA testing on one of the items collected from the crime scene. While the DNA test was being performed, Miller was released on a very restrictive 3-year parole. Finally, on March 28, 2007, the results of the DNA testing excluded Miller and identified the actual perpetrator as Robert Weeks, who was already in prison on two other similar sex offenses. Weeks could not be prosecuted for the crime because the statute of limitations had run.
The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office acknowledged Miller’s innocence and Governor Rod Blagojevich granted him a pardon based on innocence. Three years later, the City of Chicago settled a civil rights suit brought on Miller’s behalf for $6.3 million.
— Center on Wrongful Convictions