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Russell Walker

Other Cook County Exonerations with Official Misconduct
On February 21, 2006, Chicago police officers—acting on what they said was a citizen’s tip about drug sales in an alley near Lawrence Avenue and Sheridan Road on Chicago’s North Side—approached a car where a man was leaning into the passenger window.

The officers said the man outside the car, later identified as Dewey Brown, fled and was captured nearby. The officers also said that the car’s driver, 29-year-old Jermaine Walker, tossed a golf ball-sized package of cocaine out of the car. The officers said they found cocaine in the car next to Walker’s front seat passenger, his 30-year-old brother, Russell Walker.

All three were charged with possession of cocaine. Jermaine Walker was additionally charged with possession of cocaine with intent to distribute within 1,000 feet of a school.

Jermaine contended that the officers planted the drugs on him. He said they pulled him out of the car, and then kicked and punched him into submission. He claimed that he told the officers they were being recorded on a surveillance camera on the side of a building in the alley, but they continued to beat him.

Jermaine went to trial in May 2006 in Cook County Circuit Court and defended himself without a lawyer. Judge Catherine Haberkorn denied his pre-trial request for funds to hire an investigator to document his claim—that there was a surveillance camera in the alley that would have shown that the officers planted the drugs and beat him.

Police officers Eric Reyes and Sebastian Flately testified that they saw Jermaine toss drugs out of the car, and that they recovered drugs from Brown when he was captured after a foot chase. Both officers also testified there was no video camera in the alley.

Thomas Finnelly, a former Chicago police officer then working as an investigator for the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, testified that he inspected the alley. He took photographs that were admitted into evidence and that Finnelly said documented that there was no camera in the alley.

During closing argument, the prosecutor told the jury, “There was a camera somewhere in the alley? Ladies and gentlemen, there is absolutely no evidence of that. Witness after witness after witness took that stand and told you there is no camera. You have pictures of the alley, including close-ups that show you there is no camera.

“If there was a camera, do you think defendant and his brother would be stupid enough to deal drugs in front of it? Come on. Don’t you think that they would pick a different alley? Get real. The officers planted the drugs? This is the most baffling of all.”

On June 2, 2006, the jury convicted Jermaine of both counts of possession of cocaine. He was sentenced to 10 to 22 years in prison.

On May 21, 2007, Walker’s brother, Russell, pled guilty to possession of cocaine and was sentenced to seven years in prison. Brown also pled guilty and served about one year in prison.

Jermaine’s conviction was upheld on appeal by the Illinois Appellate Court, which rejected the notion that a new investigation of Walker’s claim would show that Finnelly’s photographs intentionally omitted some of the buildings in the alley. Such an investigation, the court said, would be “a meaningless exercise.”

However, Ingrid Gill, an assistant Cook County public defender, began re-investigating the case and discovered that there was in fact a camera in the alley. She learned that the camera produced a live video feed to a monitor inside an apartment building, although the feed was not recorded.

Gill obtained sworn affidavits from employees at the apartment building who testified that the camera was in place at the time the men were arrested.

Gill had earlier filed a motion requesting DNA tests on the packages of drugs that the officers claimed Jermaine tossed from the car to try to determine whether Walker’s DNA was present. That motion was still pending in 2015 when she filed a post-conviction motion for a new trial based on the evidence of the surveillance camera’s existence.

Assistant State’s Attorney Celeste Stack, who headed the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Special Litigation Unit, began a reinvestigation of the case. On March 25, 2016, she asked Judge Haberkorn to vacate Jermaine Walker’s convictions and dismissed the case.

Haberkorn declared, “A severe injustice was done here. But everybody in the court system was relying on the information and the photographs that were sworn to as the truth, and it is very disturbing and upsetting, especially as a judge, to be involved in a system where an officer of the court would come in and swear under oath to something that was not true.”

Haberkorn then granted the motion to vacate the convictions and the charges were dismissed. Jermaine Walker was immediately released from prison. The request for DNA testing was then withdrawn.

In April 2016, Jermaine Walker was granted a certificate of innocence and awarded $188,000 in state compensation. In July 2016, he filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city of Chicago.

In October 2017, Russell Walker’s conviction was vacated and the charge against him was dismissed. In March 2018, Russell, who was released from prison on parole in August 2009, was granted a certificate of innocence and awarded $97,000 in compensation. He also filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city of Chicago, which he settled in August 2020 for $60,000.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 5/13/2018
Last Updated: 1/21/2021
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2006
Sentence:7 years
Age at the date of reported crime:30
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No