In response to a 3:00 a.m. 911 call in which a woman could be heard screaming, Joliet, Illinois police rushed to the home of Robert Ezell on February 6, 1994. When their knocks went unanswered, the officers broke down the door and handcuffed Ezell. He said his nephew had been playing with the phone and must have accidentally dialed 911. After looking around and seeing no sign of a woman or, for that matter, a nephew, the police removed the handcuffs and left.
Two hours later, Brian Lewis, a patrol officer, discovered the body of Jacqueline Oaki, a prostitute, in a Joliet parking lot. She had been beaten and run over by a car. When investigators learned that Oaki had been at a party the evening before her death, they interviewed the guests, one of whom was Franklin Thompson, a decorated Vietnam veteran with a debilitating drug addiction.
Thompson said that he and Oaki had left the party briefly --- that he had driven her to her parents’ home to pick up $20, with which, upon their return, she bought crack cocaine. Although Oaki’s sister and mother identified the voice on the 911 tape as hers, the investigation fell dormant, not to be revived until two years later when Brian Lewis, the officer who found her body, became a homicide investigator.
On October 2, 1996, Lewis summoned Thompson to the police station, where Thompson waived his Miranda rights. Lewis then produced a folder which, he claimed, contained overwhelming evidence that Thompson had run over Oaki. During five hours of interrogation, Thompson repeatedly stated that he was not a violent person, but Lewis was able to convince him that drug use had made him forget the events which resulted in Oaki’s death.
Thompson signed a statement that he was at the murder scene, but that Oaki’s death had been accidental. Two weeks later, based solely on the confession, a Will County grand jury indicted Thompson for first-degree murder, alleging that he had run over Oaki with his 1991 Pontiac Sunbird and left her for dead.
Although there was no physical evidence linking Thompson to the crime --- tire prints at the scene did not match the tires on his car --- a jury found him guilty. On November 13, 1997, Will County Circuit Court Judge Stephen D. White sentenced him to 24 years.
After the Illinois Appellate Court affirmed the conviction in 1999, Jane E. Raley, attorney for the Center on Wrongful Convictions, sought post-conviction relief, which White denied. While the appeal of that decision was pending in 2003, Governor George H. Ryan pardoned Thompson based on innocence. He was awarded $138,000 from the Illinois Court of Claims.
— Center on Wrongful Convictions