At a one-day bench trial in the Circuit Court of Cook County in 2005, 31-year-old Morris Wynn was convicted of possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver. The conviction rested solely on the testimony of Michael Bernichio, a Chicago police officer who arrested Wynn and a companion, 23-year-old Wayne Guy, on the southwest side of Chicago late the night of July 27, 2004.
A grand jury indicted Guy after Bernichio testified that when Guy saw him approaching, he dropped a plastic bag containing crack cocaine in an alley. Police arrested Wynn, but when they sought charges in the case, they filed them against Guy. In fact, police first put handcuffs on both men and filled out two arrest reports — one saying Wynn was the lone man in the alley and a second alleging Guy was that man.
At Wynn’s trial on April 11, 2005, the prosecution claimed — falsely — that Wynn was merely an alias for Guy. Wynn’s lawyer incontrovertibly refuted that contention by calling Guy to the stand. Guy testified — and the prosecution conceded — that he and Wynn were different persons. It thus was obvious that Wynn had not been properly charged, but Circuit Court Judge Victoria Stewart nonetheless proceeded to find Wynn guilty and sentenced him to eight years in prison.
The Illinois Appellate Court reversed the conviction in 2006, holding (1) that the prosecution had knowingly presented Bernichio’s false testimony, which the court deemed “incredible and contradicted by his own police reports,” (2) that Bernichio’s arrest report had been illegally withheld, thus concealing Bernichio’s malfeasance, and (3) that Wynn had been denied effective assistance of counsel because his lawyer had failed to properly impeach Bernichio’s testimony.
The prosecution asked that the case be remanded for a possible new indictment and retrial, but the Appellate Court held that a retrial would constitute double jeopardy. Wynn was released on December 7, 2006 after spending 29 months in prison.
Thomas Peters, who filed a lawsuit in Cook County Circuit Court on behalf of Wynn in January 2007, but was not involved in the criminal defense, said he did not know why Wynn’s trial lawyer did not point out that the name confusion might stem from the fact that Bernichio had created two arrest reports accusing different men of the same crime.
— Center on Wrongful Convictions