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Lafonso Rollins

Other Chicago DNA Exonerations
In late January 1993, Lafonso Rollins, a 17-year-old special education student in the ninth grade, was arrested and charged with a series of robberies and sexual assaults involving four elderly women who lived in the same public housing complex in a Chicago neighborhood.  Two of the victims gave descriptions of their attacker to an artist who created a composite sketch of the suspect.  The manager of the housing complex told police that the sketch looked like Rollins, who regularly visited a man living on the 8th floor.
Based on the manager’s identification, police apprehended Rollins.  One rape victim, a 78-year-old woman, attended a lineup, but failed to identify him.  Police then showed Rollins himself a series of photos of elderly women and Rollins purportedly selected the photos of the victims.  The investigators were the only witnesses to this “reverse lineup.”
Rollins was held for 13 hours at the Chicago Police Department’s Area 2 Violent Crimes Division, and told by investigators that if he admitted to the crimes and submitted to DNA testing, he could go home. Rollins confessed to three of the assaults and was charged with all four.
At trial, Rollins’s lawyer was Madison Gordon, who was suspended from the practice of law by the Illinois Supreme Court in 1995 “for multiple acts of neglect” — and for failing to appear at his own disciplinary hearing.  Although DNA samples had been submitted to the lab, Gordon failed to obtain results.  Serology testing had excluded Rollins, but the results were not disclosed to the defense.
Rollins was convicted primarily on the basis of his signature on a written confession that detailed the attacks, which included two sexual assaults.  In March 1994, he was sentenced to 75 years.
In 2004, after Rollins had been demanding DNA testing for years, the court appointed a new lawyer to assist him.  On June 22, 2004, Rollins finally obtained DNA test results that excluded him as the perpetrator of the sexual assault for which he was convicted.
On July 12, 2004, the Circuit Court of Cook County, with no objection from the State, vacated Rollins’s conviction, dismissed the charges against him, and ordered him released.  He walked out of prison with no family to greet him.  His grandparents, mother and sister had all died while he was incarcerated.  On January 6, 2005, Rollins received an executive pardon from the Governor of the State of Illinois, based on grounds of actual innocence.
Rollins received $145,837 through the Illinois Court of Claims and pursued a federal civil claim against those who extracted the false confession.  In January 2006, the City of Chicago settled Rollins’s claim for $9 million after documents were discovered that revealed improper handling of cases by the Chicago Police Crime Laboratory.

Several months later, in August 2006, the Chicago Tribune reported that Joel Schultze, the crime-lab analyst assigned to the case who had gone on to work for the Michigan State Police crime lab had given a sworn deposition during which he was questioned about the Rollins case.

Schultze said he urged detectives and high-ranking crime- lab officials Pamela Fish and Marian Caporusso to send the evidence to the FBI for DNA testing because he strongly suspected Rollins was innocent. Schultze said his request was refused because Rollins had confessed.

Schultze said he never wrote an official report expressing his belief that Rollins was innocent. He said that on his last day at the Chicago lab, he met with Caporusso and told her that he was still haunted by the possibility that Rollins was innocent.

Caporusso, Schultze testified, told him, "Don't worry about it ... Have fun with starting your career in DNA up in Michigan."

Schultze testified that in January 1993, he was asked to analyze a pillowcase from a sexual assault for which Rollins had been charged. He conducted one test that found semen and attempted to conduct further tests to determine if he could connect Rollins to the genetic material. Schultze said that because certain controls malfunctioned, those tests were invalid. Still, when he examined the evidence closely, he discovered information that suggested that "semen on the pillowcase might not have come from Rollins."

Schultze said he did not want to try to repeat the test, fearing another malfunction would consume the evidence entirely, eliminating any possibility of doing more accurate testing.

So Schultze said he went to Fish, his immediate supervisor, to request that the evidence be sent to the FBI for a DNA test, which would be more precise. At the time, the Chicago crime lab did not conduct DNA tests. "She told me that ... detectives had a confession and there would be no further testing," he testified.

"I actually showed her the result and showed her what concerned me about the results," Schultze testified. "And I know I pushed her to the point where she did respond ... something to the effect that, `I know this bothers you. However, you're not even sure if this semen has anything to do with the sexual assault.'

"I was persistent within the boundaries of my position. I was still a relatively new analyst with Chicago," Schultze testified. "I guess I was stubborn. I wasn't getting the answer I wanted, so I felt I should go to her supervisor [Caporusso]."

He testified that Caporusso "said [that] per ... detectives, that there will be no further testing. They have a confession in the case."

Four months later, while Rollins was in jail awaiting trial, another woman was sexually assaulted in the same neighborhood as the case in which Rollins was charged, Schultze said. He called the detectives in the Rollins case and reported his doubts about Rollins' guilt and suggested that DNA testing be performed in both cases. There was no response, he said. That summer, in preparation for Rollins' trial, Schultze said, he was instructed to write a report limited to the finding that semen was present on the pillowcase.
— Rob Warden

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Posting Date:  Before June 2012
Last Updated: 5/12/2020
Most Serious Crime:Sexual Assault
Additional Convictions:Robbery
Reported Crime Date:1993
Sentence:75 years
Age at the date of reported crime:17
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, False Confession, False or Misleading Forensic Evidence, Official Misconduct, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:Yes