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Kerry Masterson

Other Female Murder Exonerees
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On May 14, 2009, 55-year-old Michael Norton was found bound and shot to death in Norton’s Sweet Shop, a candy store he operated in the 4700 block of West North Avenue in Chicago, Illinois.

Two witnesses, Jakeila Tankson and Lisa Randle, reported seeing a Hispanic man with a ponytail running down the street at about the time of the crime, although they did not know at the time that a crime had occurred.

Another witness, Regina Evans, said she saw a Hispanic man with a ponytail leave the store at about that time. Evans said she saw another man walking across the street in the opposite direction of the running man. Evans also said she saw a woman standing next to a van in a nearby parking lot calling out, “What the (obscenity) is taking you so long!” and “Hurry the (obscenity) up!”

Several days later, police examined the leases for apartments located above the shop. One of the apartments formerly had been rented to 24-year-old Beatrice Rosado. A photographic lineup containing Rosado’s photo was shown to a tenant of the building, who said she recognized Rosado as being a former resident of the building.

When detectives learned that Rosado’s boyfriend was 26-year-old Elvin Payton, they put a photograph of Payton into a lineup. Evans identified Payton as a man she saw coming out of the store with a bag of cigarettes on the evening of the murder.

On May 20, 2009, Rosado and Payton learned they were wanted for questioning and turned themselves in to police. Both denied involvement in the crime. The following day, after Payton was told that he had failed a polygraph examination, he said that he was involved in the crime with Rosado and a 23-year-old woman named Kerry Masterson.

Payton told police that the robbery was Masterson’s idea and that she was the one who shot Norton. He gave a recorded statement saying that Masterson tied up Norton and shot him after Payton left the store.

Detectives confronted Rosado on May 22, 2009 and said that Payton told them what happened. Rosado then said she waited outside by the van while Payton and Masterson went into the store. She said that when Payton and Masterson got into the van, Payton said he had to shoot Norton because Norton recognized him.

On May 27, Masterson turned herself in and was put into a lineup. Evans identified Masterson as the person with the ponytail she saw running from the store, but expressed surprise because she had originally thought the person she saw was a male. The following day, Tankson viewed a lineup and also picked Masterson. Like Evans, Tankson was surprised because she thought she saw a male fleeing. On June 10, 2009, Randle viewed a lineup and also identified Masterson as the person she saw running from the store.

Masterson, Payton, and Rosado were charged with first-degree murder, armed robbery, and aggravated unlawful restraint. Payton and Rosado pled guilty. Payton was sentenced to 47 years in prison and Rosado was sentenced to 22 years in prison.

In 2010, Masterson’s defense lawyer filed a motion seeking to present evidence from Dr. Elizabeth Loftus, an expert on the fallibility of eyewitness identification. The defense noted that all three witnesses originally said that the person they saw leave the store was a man.

Judge Vincent Gaughan denied the motion. He ruled that the witnesses’ initial misidentification of the person as a man, their limited opportunity to view the person running (five or six seconds), and their level of stress were all matters the jury could consider in evaluating their testimony.

In October 2011, Masterson went to trial in Cook County Circuit Court. The prosecution’s theory was that Rosado, Payton, and Masterson sought revenge on Norton because he had evicted Rosado and Payton from their apartment above the candy store when he suspected they were selling drugs.

However, when Payton and Rosado were called to testify for the prosecution, both recanted their earlier statements and said that Masterson was not involved.

Payton told the jury that he was drunk and high when he was interrogated and told detectives what they wanted to hear. “It was all lies,” he said.

He said he went into the store, tackled Norton, and bound his hands and feet with wire. “He was screaming, ‘Please don’t kill me,’” Payton testified. He said he took cash from the cash register and on his way out, “I shot him.”

Rosado said she was “going along with a lie” when she said she saw Masterson run out of the store. She said the detectives showed her portions of Payton’s recorded statement. “They pretty much just kept throwing my kids in my face,” Rosado said. “That’s how they tricked me into giving a statement.”

The prosecution then played portions of Rosado’s and Payton’s recorded statements for the jury. After viewing her own statement, Rosado testified that she saw Payton run from the store, get into the van and say that he shot Norton. Rosado again said Masterson was not involved.

Detectives testified that they did not pressure Rosado or Payton to implicate Masterson, and that both voluntarily implicated her.

No physical or forensic evidence linked Masterson to the crime.

The defense, by agreement with the prosecution, presented a statement of a tenant of the building that she heard Rosado threaten to kill Norton if he evicted her. The defense also presented the statement of Norton’s friend who said that Norton confided in him that the tenants in Rosado’s apartment threatened to kill him for evicting them.

On October 20, 2011, the jury convicted Masterson of first-degree murder, armed robbery, and aggravated unlawful restraint. She was sentenced to 58 years in prison.

In summer of 2014, Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law Center on Wrongful Convictions began representing Masterson. At that time, her case was one of the first accepted by the Center’s Women’s Project. Attorneys Karen Daniel and Andrea Lewis began investigating her case.

In September 2014, the Illinois Appellate Court upheld Masterson’s convictions. A petition was then filed asking the Illinois Supreme Court to review Masterson’s case.

In January 2016, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled in the unrelated Cook County murder conviction of Eduardo Lerma that the trial judge erred in denying the defendant the opportunity to present testimony from an eyewitness identification expert. “We not only have seen that eyewitness identifications are not always as reliable as they appear, but we also have learned, from a scientific standpoint, why this is often the case,” the court declared.

In March 2016, the Illinois Supreme Court denied the petition to review Masterson’s case, but ordered the Illinois Appellate Court to reconsider its decision to uphold Masterson’s conviction in light of its decision in the Lerma case.

In May 2016, the Illinois Appellate Court reversed Masterson’s convictions and ordered a new trial. “In light of the fact that the defendant’s conviction rested upon the repudiated pre-trial statements of Rosado and Payton and the identification testimony of three witnesses who had initially told the police that the person they saw…was a Hispanic male, we believe that the proposed testimony…regarding the factors which may influence perception and affect the reliability of eyewitness identification would have been both probative and relevant and would have aided the jury in determining the trustworthiness of the identification of the defendant by Evans, Tankson and Randle,” the court ruled.

Masterson went to trial on the murder charge a second time in October 2017. Rosado and Payton were again called to testify and both again repudiated their pre-trial implication of Masterson. They said they were affiliated with a street gang and implied they had committed the crime with another male member of the gang. Rosado and Payton said they falsely implicated Masterson, and that they would have suffered severe repercussions had they identified a fellow gang member as the third participant.

The prosecution again presented portions of the video recordings of their statements. The three eyewitnesses again identified Masterson as the person they saw running from Norton’s store.Dr. Brian Cutler, a psychology researcher from the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, testified for the defense that the conditions under which the three eyewitnesses saw the person running from the shop increased the risk of mistaken identification.

Masterson testified and denied involvement in the crime. She said she was elsewhere working on her truck at the time Norton was robbed and killed.

On November 2, 2017, after less than three hours of deliberation, the jury acquitted Masterson and she was released from prison.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 11/10/2017
State:Illinois
County:Cook
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Robbery, Other Violent Felony
Reported Crime Date:2009
Convicted:2011
Exonerated:2017
Sentence:58 years
Race:Hispanic
Sex:Female
Age at the date of crime:23
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No