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Gregory Agnew

Other Lake County, IL Exonerations
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In the early morning hours of February 24, 1988, 22-year-old Carlos Duarte reported to police that he had been beaten and robbed after he stopped to purchase gasoline at an Arco gas station in Waukegan, Illinois.

Not long after, 28-year-old Gregory Agnew came to the police station to report that his coat had been stolen from him when acquaintances drove off and left him at the same gas station. Duarte then identified him as the man who hit him in the head with a garden hoe and stole $1 from his pocket.

Agnew was arrested on a charge of armed robbery and went to trial in Lake County Circuit Court on June 13, 1988.

The first witness, Sandra Hill, testified that she, Tommy Miller, Derrick Lovelace, Bay Walls, and Agnew were drinking beer and wine on February 23, 1988. After midnight on February 24, Agnew and Miller began quarrelling and went outside to fight. Hill testified that after the fight, Miller noticed he was missing $200 in cash and some heroin.

Hill said that after she, Miller, Walls, and Agnew searched unsuccessfully for the cash and drugs, Walls left the party. That’s when Hill and the others concluded that Walls was the thief, and they got into Lovelace’s car to look for him. Hill said Miller put a garden hoe in the back seat next to Agnew.

Hill said that at about 3:30 a.m., after driving around and not finding Walls, they stopped at the gas station to buy snacks. Hill claimed that Agnew saw a man coming out of the station with a large amount of cash in his hands and asked the others if anyone wanted to “be in on it.”

Hill said they wanted no part of that. When Agnew got out of the car with the hoe, they drove off and left him. She said that as they drove off, she heard a man yell and looked back to see Agnew hitting him with the hoe.

That man, Duarte, then testified that he had stopped for gas on his way to work. He went into the station to pre-pay for $5 worth of gas with a $50 bill. He put the remaining $45 into his shirt pocket as he was coming out of the station. He said that as he went to the pump, was hit on the back of the head with the hoe. Duarte said Agnew grabbed him by the collar, searched his coat and pants pockets, and took $1 from his pants. Duarte said Agnew did not find the $45 in his shirt pocket.

The prosecution’s third witness was Waukegan police officer Herbert Browne. Browne said Agnew called police to report that Lovelace had threatened him with a garden hoe and then stolen his jacket. Browne met with Agnew at about 4:30 a.m. After he took Agnew’s report, Agnew asked if anyone had reported a robbery near the gas station that night. Browne admitted that he did not record that comment in his report because he considered it insignificant. Agnew was arrested later that day based on Duarte’s identification.

Browne finished testifying at 3:45 p.m. and the jury was sent home.

The prosecutor then announced that the bailiff who had been attending to the jury, Lake County sheriff’s deputy Fred House, had come forward and said that he recognized Agnew. House said that he was working in the lockup when Agnew was brought in, and that Agnew admitted to House that he had been charged with robbery for taking a dollar. The prosecutor said he wanted to call House as a rebuttal witness if Agnew testified. The prosecutor acknowledged a special relationship between a bailiff who cares for a jury and asked that a new bailiff be assigned to take over for House.

Agnew’s defense lawyer requested a mistrial, but the prosecution said the motion was premature because no final decision had been made on whether House would be called. The prosecution also argued that there was no evidence that House had had influenced the jury in any way.

Agnew’s lawyer argued that prejudice was inherent when a bailiff who oversees a jury becomes a witness for the prosecution.

Ultimately, the judge agreed to appoint a new bailiff. Agnew’s lawyer declined the judge’s invitation to question the deputy about any conversations he may have had with the jurors. The judge denied the motion for a mistrial, declaring that the bailiff’s contact with the jurors was “extremely brief” and that he had no “long term involvement” with the jury.

When the trial resumed the following day, the prosecution rested its case and Agnew took the witness stand. He testified that he was a passenger in a car with Lovelace, Miller, and Hill, and that he was simply seeking a ride home. However, the others decided to drive around looking to buy drugs.

Agnew testified that when they stopped for gas, Lovelace asked him to pump the gas and get rid of the hoe. Agnew said that Lovelace went into the station to pay and he tossed the hoe toward a garbage can, but missed. At that moment, Duarte walked up and they began to argue over who was going to use the pump first.

Agnew said Duarte kicked him in the groin, so he grabbed the hoe and fought back. He denied taking any money from Duarte. He also said that while he was fighting with Duarte, Lovelace drove off with Agnew’s coat in the back seat.

Agnew testified that he reported the theft of his coat, but did not mention his encounter with Duarte because he feared expulsion from an alcohol rehabilitation program he had voluntarily joined.

The defense then rested its case and the prosecution called deputy House to the stand. House said he recalled meeting Agnew at the jail during shift change and asked him why he was there. House quoted Agnew as saying, “It’s over a dollar…Someone should beat my ass and let me go home.”

House conceded that he did not write a report of the conversation and that he did not attach significance to it until he sat through the first day of the trial.

During closing argument, the prosecution mentioned the conversation six times. “There’s no doubt he did it because he admitted it,” the prosecutor said. “At that point he knew he had done something wrong and he says this is over a dollar, but he says more than that, he says all I got was a dollar. You should take me outside and whip me for a dollar.”

The jury deliberated for 31 minutes and convicted Agnew of armed robbery. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

Agnew appealed, arguing that the trial judge erred by failing to inquire into whether the deputy had accompanied the jurors to lunch or to what extent he may have spoken with them. Agnew also argued that his trial defense attorney had provided an inadequate legal defense by failing to call Lovelace and Miller to testify. After originally backing Hill’s version of events, Lovelace and Miller had recanted and supported Agnew’s account. However, in 1989, the Illinois Appellate Court upheld his conviction.

In 1998, Agnew filed a federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus claiming that his trial was constitutionally unfair because the trial court failed to develop a factual record regarding the bailiff’s contacts with the jury and his attorney failed to demand that such a record be created. In addition, the petition asserted that his lawyer had failed to call the witnesses to support his account.

The District Court dismissed the petition. In May 2001, however, the Seventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals reversed and ordered a new trial. “Because the bailiff’s contacts with the jury were of a continuous and intimate nature typical of the bailiff/jury relationship, and because Deputy House’s testimony constituted substantive evidence of Agnew’s guilt, the trial court should have granted a mistrial to avoid the extreme prejudice inherent in those circumstances,” the court ruled.

Agnew went to trial for a second time in November 2001 and chose to have his case decided by a judge without a jury. After the prosecution presented its evidence, Lake County Circuit Court Judge James Booras granted a defense motion for acquittal and Agnew was released.

For nearly a decade, Agnew pursued a pardon without success.

Governor George Ryan denied his request in 2002, and Governor Rod Blagojevich ignored a subsequent request. In 2010, Governor Pat Quinn denied Agnew a pardon.

Ultimately, however, attorney Jed Stone filed a motion for a certificate of innocence and in 2017, after receiving the certificate, the state of Illinois awarded Agnew $222,939 in compensation.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 1/18/2018
State:Illinois
County:Lake
Most Serious Crime:Robbery
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1988
Convicted:1988
Exonerated:2001
Sentence:30 years
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:28
Contributing Factors:False Confession, Perjury or False Accusation, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No