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Daniel Andersen

Other Chicago DNA Exonerations
On the night of January 19, 1980, 20-year-old Cathy Trunko was stabbed in the chest three times at 4938 S. Paulina St, near her home on the South Side of Chicago. A passerby found her lying on the sidewalk and called for help, but to no avail.

Two days later, in a yard about a block away, a kitchen knife measuring 8.5 inches was found with the blade in the ground and the handle sticking up. The Chicago police crime laboratory found Type A blood on the knife, which was the same type as Trunko’s blood.

On January 24, five days after the murder, the mother of 19-year-old Daniel Andersen called a police officer who was a family friend. Andersen’s mother said that her son was intoxicated and needed to be driven home. The officer relayed the information to another officer who stopped Andersen’s car at about 1:30 a.m. Andersen was not in the car. The officer detained the driver, Norman Venegas, who said that he was driving Andersen’s car home for him.

The officer and his partner, Paul Nielsen, drove Venegas to Andersen’s home where they saw Andersen, who had been driven there by another friend. Nielsen pulled Andersen’s arm behind his back and pushed him to the ground. Venegas protested that Andersen was in pain, but was ignored. Andersen’s mother, Mary, came outside and the officers asked her to sign a disorderly conduct complaint against her son.

Initially, Mary Andersen balked, but because she wanted the officers to stop hurting her son and because they assured her that he was just drunk and she could pick him up in the morning, she agreed to sign a complaint.

The officers later said that during the five minute ride to the police station, Andersen spontaneously admitted that he had stabbed Trunko. After 16 hours of interrogation, the police said that Andersen had given a detailed confession to the murder, saying that at about 10 p.m. on January 19, he felt a need for sex and so he left his house with a knife secreted in his boot.

Police said Andersen told them that he happened to see Trunko, who was a friend he had known since childhood, and struck up a conversation. In front of a church, Andersen said he told her to wait on the front steps while went out back to urinate. Out of her sight, he took the knife and placed it on some stairs, put on some gloves and returned to Trunko.

When he got close to the stairs, Andersen said he bent down, picked up the knife, kissed Trunko and said he wanted to make love. When she refused, he forced her to the ground and she spit in his face. Andersen said Trunko started to scream and he stabbed her three times in the chest and fled, discarding the knife and gloves as he ran.

Andersen immediately recanted the confession, but he was charged with murder and attempted rape. In March 1980, Andersen was examined by a court-appointed psychiatrist who recommended psychiatric care and found him unfit to stand trial. Andersen was committed to a state mental health center where, after three months, he was declared fit to stand trial.

On March 11, 1982, a Cook County Circuit Court jury convicted Andersen of both charges, based primarily on his confession and the evidence that the blood on the knife was of the same blood type as Trunko’s.

The jury rejected Andersen’s testimony that upon arriving at the station, officers beat and kicked him and threatened to scar his face forever unless he confessed. When he did not, another officer came in and told him that if he confessed, the officer would get him a job, take him out on his boat and get him out of the interrogation room. And if he did not confess, the officers who beat him would come back.

Andersen, sleep-deprived and hung over (if not still drunk), ultimately said he was told by the detectives where the knife had been found and was given a description of it. Family members testified on his behalf that he was home at the time of the murder and that Andersen had been losing a battle with alcohol since the age of 14.

At his sentencing hearing, Andersen told the judge: “I am innocent. I didn’t kill that girl, Cathy.” He was sentenced to 55 years in prison.

Andersen’s appeals were denied as was a federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus. In March 2007, Andersen was released on parole after spending more than 27 years in prison.

In June 2013, Cook County Circuit Court Judge Paul Biebel granted a petition for DNA testing filed on behalf of Andersen by the Northwestern University Law School’s Center on Wrongful Convictions. The Center began re-investigating the case after Andersen’s cousin, a graduate of the law school, asked the Center to examine the case.

In February 2014, Cellmark Forensics reported that a partial DNA profile was developed from the blood on the knife. The profile did not belong to either Trunko or Andersen.

Andersen’s attorney, Joshua Tepfer, filed a motion to vacate Andersen’s conviction because of the new evidence. The prosecution opposed the motion and more DNA tests were performed on scrapings from Trunko’s fingernails. Those tests produced the DNA profiles of two unidentified males and excluded Andersen.

In July 2015, Cook County Circuit Court Judge Alfredo Maldonado vacated Andersen’s conviction and ordered a new trial, describing the DNA evidence as an “extraordinary compelling fact.”

On August 13, 2015, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office dismissed the charges. Anderson was granted a certificate of innocence and awarded $220,700 in state compensation.

In February, 2016, Anderson filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city of Chicago. The case went to trial, and on June 8, 2021, a jury awarded him $7.6 million in damages.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 8/15/2015
Last Updated: 6/9/2021
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Attempt, Violent
Reported Crime Date:1980
Sentence:55 years
Age at the date of reported crime:19
Contributing Factors:False Confession, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:Yes*