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Teshome Campbell

Other Murder Exonerations with Mistaken Witness ID
In the early morning hours of December 25, 1997, 44-year-old James Shepherd was savagely beaten by a group of men in Champaign, Illinois after Shepherd accused a drug dealer of selling him fake crack cocaine for$20.

By the time Shepherd died on January 26, 1998 without regaining consciousness, police had charged 12 men with participating in the beating. Over the next several months, the prosecution dismissed the charges against four of the defendants and three men pled guilty. The charges against two others, Steven Peete and Damion Johnson, also were dismissed and they were granted immunity from prosecution in exchange for their testimony against the remaining three defendants—Theodis White, Bobby Joe Douglas, and 21-year-old Teshome Campbell.

White was convicted by a jury of first-degree murder and sentenced to 45 years in prison. Douglas was acquitted by a jury in September 1998. Campbell went to trial in Champaign County Circuit Court in October 1998.

Rita Butler, a sex worker, testified that she accompanied Shepherd and purchased the drugs for $20. They left and when they discovered the drugs were fake, they drove back and Shepherd parked his van at the corner, facing away from where he had purchased the drugs. Butler testified that Campbell was among the men who beat and kicked Shepherd.

Johnson and Peete testified that they were present on the street, but did not take part in the beating. Both men told the jury that Campbell participated in the attack.

During closing argument, the prosecutor told the jury that while Johnson was testifying, Campbell was “shooting daggers” from his eyes at the witness an in apparent attempt to intimidate him.  On October 15, 1998, the jury convicted Campbell of first-degree murder. He was sentenced to 55 years in prison.

In 2002, the Illinois Appellate Court upheld the conviction and sentence. The court held that the prosecution’s closing argument, though improper, did not prevent Campbell from receiving a fair trial.

In 2008, Campbell filed a federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus which was put on hold until 2010 while a post-conviction petition pending in the Illinois Appellate Court was resolved and was denied.

In 2012, the Illinois Innocence Project was re-investigating the case and discovered that three witnesses had provided information to police right after the shooting that either contradicted the testimony of prosecution witnesses at Campbell’s trial or showed that Campbell was not involved in the murder at all.

In 2013, U.S. District Court Judge Harold Baker denied the petition for the writ. On appeal, the law firm of Perkins Coie was appointed to represent Campbell.

In March 2015, the Seventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals vacated Baker’s ruling and sent the case back to Baker for further hearings on Campbell’s claim that his trial attorney had provided an inadequate legal defense by failing to call three witnesses who were identified at the time in police reports. The appeals court ordered Baker to determine whether Campbell’s lawyer investigated the statements to police by these potential witnesses and that if the lawyer had made no effort to investigate the witnesses, then Campbell was entitled to a new trial

One witness, Toni Leonard, told police that two other men—not Campbell—started the fight. That testimony contradicted Butler’s testimony, as well as the prosecution’s theory of the case, that Campbell started the brawl that resulted in Shepherd’s murder. Leonard also told police that Johnson took part in the beating, which contradicted Johnson’s assertion that he was not involved in the attack.

Another witness, Leroy Hunter, told police that Peete hit Shepherd three or four times with something that appeared to be a pipe or a large stick. That testimony contracted Peete’s testimony that was not involved.

A third witness, Ieca Hunter, told police that she saw the attack. While  she could not identify any of the attackers, Hunter said that during the beating, Campbell was standing directly in front of her home apart from the group that beat Shepherd. Campbell “never touched” Shepherd, the appeals court said.

At the evidentiary hearing, Campbell’s trial lawyer, Harvey Welch, testified that he went to the scene of the beating during the night and decided to pursue a defense that asserted the lighting was so poor that it was too dark for anyone to identify Campbell as being involved in the beating. As a result, he did not investigate any witnesses.

In December 2015, Judge Baker vacated Campbell’s conviction and ordered a new trial. The judge found that Welch did not interview the potential witnesses and had not asked the court to appoint an investigator to interview them.

“He didn’t think it worthwhile,” Baker wrote. “His declared strategy was to rely completely on the jurors having a reasonable doubt about the state’s witnesses’ ability to make a positive identification. He reached that conclusion without knowing what the witnesses might say if called to the witness stand, and without assessing their credibility.

On January 29, 2016, Champaign County State’s Attorney dismissed the charge, saying it would be “impossible” to retry the case, and Campbell was released from prison.
At the time, Campbell’s petition for clemency was still pending. White remained in prison and Peete was in prison after being convicted and sentenced to a 25-year term for a subsequent murder in Champaign.

In September 2016, Campbell was granted a certificate of innocence in Champaign County Circuit Court. He was subsequently awarded $220,732 in compensation by the state of Illinois. In 2017, he filed a federal civil rights lawsuit seeking damages for his wrongful conviction. The lawsuit was settled by the city of Champaign for $3.5 million in 2018.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 2/9/2016
Last Updated: 9/6/2018
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1997
Sentence:55 years
Age at the date of reported crime:21
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No