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Albert Cleveland

Other Cook County Murder Exonerations
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At about 1:30 a.m. on July 17, 1995, 39-year-old Magellan Steward was killed and 32-year-old Martin Amos was wounded in a shooting in the 10600 block of South Oglesby Avenue in the Trumbull Park Homes public housing development on the south side of Chicago.

Amos told responding police that men he did not know had approached and shot them.

Several days later, Tartorius Allen, an inmate in the Racine County, Wisconsin jail on a charge of possession of crack cocaine with intent to distribute, reached out to Chicago police saying he had information about the shooting. But first, Allen said, he wanted to speak to his mother and family members.

After he spoke with his family, Allen told the police that his 15-year-old sister, Sherrocco, had seen the shooting. On September 1, 1995, Allen pled guilty to the possession charge and was sentenced to 71 days in jail with a six-month suspended sentence.

Meanwhile, Sherrocco told police she was in front of the building at 10528 South Olglesby Avenue where she lived when she saw 20-year-old Albert Cleveland and two others she knew only as Keith and Bowie arguing with Steward and Amos. At one point, Cleveland pulled out a gun and handed it to Keith who shot Amos in the face. Keith then handed the gun back to Cleveland, who shot Steward as he fled in a gangway.

On September 6, 1995, police arrested Cleveland and confiscated 100 grams of cocaine from him. The following day, Cleveland stood in a lineup and Sherrocco identified him.

On September 25, 1996, Cleveland went to trial in Cook County Circuit Court. Before jury selection, his attorney, Richard Dickinson, told the trial judge that Cleveland’s sister, Victoria Cleveland, would be a potential defense witness. She identified herself in court and was excluded from the courtroom until such time when she was to be called to testify.

Allen testified and changed the location where she saw the shooting. Instead of saying she was in front of the building where she lived, she said she was at a building that was nearly 300 feet closer to the scene of the shooting. Dickinson failed to note that it was impossible for Sherrocco to have seen the shooting from her building. Not only was it 415 feet away, but another building blocked any view of the shooting.

Sherrocco said she did not see Steward get shot. Rather, she said that Cleveland pointed the gun into the gangway and pulled the trigger. She also testified that she never saw Steward’s body.

A medical examiner testified that Steward had a “defense wound” in his right hand from a “close range” shot fired from an inch away. The examiner testified that Steward could not have gotten the close range wound if he were shot from 15 feet away or was running away—contradicting Sherrocco’s account.

A police detective testified that Sherrocco told him when she was first interviewed that she saw Steward’s body after the shooting.

Dickinson called no witnesses and presented no evidence. On September 27, 1996, the jury convicted Cleveland of first-degree murder and first-degree attempted murder. He was sentenced to 45 years in prison.

In 1997, the Illinois Appellate Court upheld the convictions. In 1998, Cleveland, acting without a lawyer, filed a post-conviction petition seeking a new trial. A judge appointed the Cook County public defender’s office to represent him. The prosecution filed a motion to dismiss the petition that same year.

However, no action took place on the case for the next eight years. Finally, in 2006, Cleveland filed a motion requesting that a different lawyer—not someone from the public defender’s office—be assigned to the case. The motion said four different public defenders had been assigned variously to the case during the eight years, but no meaningful work had ever been done.

Ultimately, Cleveland was appointed a different public defender. The new attorney amended the petition to assert that Dickinson had a conflict of interest at the time of the trial because he had previously represented Steward, who was identified in court records as “Magellah” Steward, on drug charges. The petition also claimed that Dickinson had failed to interview witnesses, and failed to call Victoria Cleveland or Willanika Wheaton. Both would have testified that Cleveland was at Wheaton’s home at the time of the shooting. Moreover, the petition claimed that two other witnesses, Tojuna Williams and Dawn Temple, said they saw the shooting and that Cleveland was not there.

Nonetheless, four years later—in 2010—Judge Charles Burns dismissed Cleveland’s petition. In 2012, the Illinois Appellate Court reversed that ruling and sent the case back to the trial court for an evidentiary hearing. The appellate court said that based on a 2008 ruling by the Illinois Supreme Court, a conflict of interest did appear to exist. The court said a hearing was necessary to allow Dickinson to testify. In addition, the prosecution argued that there was no proof that the Magellah Steward who Dickinson had defended on a drug charge was the same Magellan Steward who had been murdered.

In 2013, the public defender’s office asked the law firm of Mayer Brown in Chicago to take over the case for free. The firm agreed and Mayer Brown attorney Lori Lightfoot took over the case along with other lawyers, including Chad Clamage, Michael Frisch, Rebecca Klein, and Michael Morrill.

At the evidentiary hearing, Dickinson admitted he had represented Magellan Steward in 1988. In addition, Dickinson admitted that he had represented another client who had been charged with the murder of Fred Couch and attempted murder of Cleveland, who was sitting next to Couch when Couch was killed. In addition, the defense presented evidence that Dickson had represented a man who had been charged with committing a home invasion with Martin Amos—who had been wounded in the shooting that killed Steward.

Dickinson also claimed that prior to the trial, Cleveland confessed to him that he shot Steward.

Cleveland testified at the hearing and denied that he ever admitted to the shooting. He said that Dickinson never revealed any of his prior representations of Steward or others connected to Steward and Amos. Cleveland said that after he was sentenced to 45 years, he said, “What a shame.” Dickinson responded that “the shame was that a good man was dead.”

Victoria Cleveland, a certified public accountant, testified at the hearing that she picked up Cleveland at about 11 p.m. on July 16, 1996—more than two hours prior to the shooting—and dropped him off at 11:30 p.m. at the home of his girlfriend, Willanika Wheaton. She said she picked him up there the next morning and they went to breakfast at their mother’s home.

After Cleveland was arrested, Victoria located eyewitnesses Dawn Temple and Tojuna Williams and provided the information, as well as her account of Cleveland’s whereabouts on the night of the shooting, to Dickinson. She said that Dickinson said he was going to call the witnesses a trial. She testified that after Cleveland was convicted, she confronted Dickinson about why he did not call her to testify. She said he replied that it was “an open and shut case and Albert didn’t need any witnesses.”

Wheaton, a dialysis technician, testified that Cleveland was living with her and their daughter in 1995 and that at the time of the shooting, he was with them in their apartment 10 miles away from the scene.

Dawn Temple testified that at the time of the shooting, she had known Cleveland for five years and also knew Steward as a “big-time gangster” in the neighborhood. She said that prior to the shooting, she heard a loud argument and recognized the voices of Steward, Amos, and another man she knew only as “Sugar-Free.” She said there was a fourth man whom she did not know. She said Cleveland was not there and that he had a distinctive voice that she would have recognized. Temple said she provided her account to Dickinson, but he never contacted her to testify.

Temple also testified that Sherrocco Allen was a friend, and that she saw Allen just before the shooting. Temple was prepared to testify that Allen was in front of her building, but Judge Burns refused to allow it after the prosecution objected that it was beyond the scope of the hearing.

Tojuna Williams testified she had known Cleveland for about four years and knew that he had a distinctively loud and squeaky voice. She said she was in an apartment right next door to the shooting. She said she arrived there around midnight for a sexual liaison with a married friend named “Fudgey.” Williams said she and Fudgey were on a couch when they heard loud voices. She looked out and saw Steward and Amos, whom she knew, and two other men she did not recognize. Neither was Cleveland, she said. As she watched, she said, one of the men pulled out a gun and began firing.

Williams said she did not speak to police when they arrived because Fudgey didn’t want his wife to learn of their affair. When she learned Cleveland had been charged with the crime, Williams called Dickinson and told him what she saw. Dickinson took her name and number, and then never called her back.

John Rea, a private investigator, testified that it was physically impossible for Sherrocco to have seen the shooting from the front of her building—the location she first gave to police.

Nonetheless, Judge Burns denied the petition for a new trial. He said that Dickinson’s prior representations were “remote,” of no consequence, and did not affect Dickinson’s performance at the trial. Burns also said he believed Dickinson was truthful when he said Cleveland confessed to him. The judge said that in light of Dickinson’s claim that Cleveland confessed, his decision not to call the witnesses was in line with his ethical obligation not to suborn perjury.

Cleveland’s legal team appealed and in March 2016, the Illinois Appellate Court reversed Cleveland’s conviction and ordered a new trial. The court held that Dickinson had a conflict of interest that was never disclosed to Cleveland.

On February 16, 2017, Cleveland was released from prison. He agreed to plead guilty to possession of cocaine when he was arrested and was sentenced to time served. On March 22, 2017, the prosecution dismissed the murder and attempted murder charges.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 4/16/2019
State:Illinois
County:Cook
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Attempted Murder
Reported Crime Date:1995
Convicted:1996
Exonerated:2017
Sentence:45 years
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of reported crime:20
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No