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James Fletcher, Jr.

Other Cook County, Illinois exonerations with mistaken witness identification
On December 21, 1990, two men robbed the driver of a Holsum bread truck in the 5600 block of West Madison Street in Chicago. When they fled, the driver, 38-year-old Edward Cooper, pulled out a gun he kept for protection and began firing at the robbers. One of the robbers fired back, and 65-year-old Willie Sorrell, a bystander, was shot dead on the sidewalk.

Police interviewed Cooper and 16-year-old Sheenee Friend, who was talking to Cooper right before the robbery. Police also interviewed two witnesses, Terry Rogers and Emmitt Wade.

Cooper told police that he had finished making a delivery to the Uncle Remus restaurant when the robbery occurred. He said one robber had collar-length Jheri-curl style hair, and was wearing a baseball cap, dark pants and a Starter jacket. He said this man was between 5 feet 6 inches and 6 feet tall, and weighed about 160 to 170 pounds. Cooper said that he believed that Rogers, who had a lengthy record of arrests and convictions, knew the robbers and had set him up to be robbed because Rogers had a serious drug problem and needed money.

Rogers told police he recognized one of the robbers as a known drug user from the neighborhood, but did not say he knew them. He did say that he heard one robber yell “Fletcher” to the other robber as they fled.

The crime was still unsolved more than four years later when Chicago police detectives Jerome Bogucki and Raymond Schalk, who were in a cold case unit, were assigned to the case. The detectives re-interviewed Cooper in March of 1995. Cooper told the detectives that he still believed Rogers had set up him up. The detectives then submitted a request that if Rogers were arrested, he was to be held so they could interview him.

Nearly seven years later, in February of 2002, Rogers was arrested for trespassing and the detectives interviewed him. Rogers said that on the day of Sorrell’s murder, James Fletcher Jr. approached him and asked if he had any “work,” meaning drugs. Rogers said he told Fletcher that he did and Fletcher walked away. Less than a half hour later, according to Rogers, Cooper pulled up and Rogers heard gunshots. Then, Rogers said, he saw Fletcher and another man running away, and Cooper and Fletcher exchanged gunshots. Rogers identified Fletcher in a photographic lineup.

The detectives showed Cooper the same photo array. Cooper said that Fletcher looked similar to one of the robbers, but he could not be sure.

At that time, Fletcher was in prison for an armed robbery conviction. The detectives and an assistant Cook County State’s attorney, Jennifer Walker, interviewed him at the prison. Fletcher said he knew Rogers, but denied involvement in the crime. Fletcher said he was a successful drug dealer and had no reason to rob a bread truck for money.

On March 7, 2002, Sheenee Friend was arrested for a parole violation. Detectives Bogucki and Schalk interviewed her the next day, and they reported that she said she had seen the robbers in the neighborhood before. The detectives said Friend viewed a photo array and picked Fletcher as someone she had seen in the neighborhood.

On April 18, 2002, Fletcher was moved to the Cook County Jail and charged with Sorrell’s murder. On April 20, Cooper and Friend viewed a live lineup. The detectives said that Friend identified Fletcher as one of the robbers, and that Cooper identified Fletcher, but said he was “only about 75 percent sure.”

On May 17, 2002, Fletcher was indicted for Sorrell’s murder. In February 2005, he went to trial in Cook County Circuit Court. The prosecution’s case relied primarily on the testimony of Friend and Cooper.

Cooper said that Friend approached him and asked if he had any change for the laundromat. He said he opened the door to his truck, and a man came from behind and stuck an object into his back. That man, along with another man, ordered Cooper into the back of his truck. When the man who first approached Cooper demanded money from him, Cooper reached into his left pocket and handed over some cash. The gunman said, “That ain’t all you got,” and the other man, whom Cooper identified as Fletcher, took more money from Cooper’s right pocket.

Cooper said the men noticed there was a safe in the truck and demanded he open it. Cooper said he told them he did not have a key and suggested they just steal the truck. At that point, Cooper said Fletcher told the other man to shoot him. However, the man did not and both men then fled. Cooper said he reached for his gun and started shooting.

Cooper said the men fired back and that he chased them to an abandoned building where he gave up pursuit. He said he was only about 75 percent sure that Fletcher was one of the robbers.

Emmitt Wade testified that he was sitting in his van reading a newspaper when he heard screams and gunshots—one of which struck the windshield of his vehicle. He said he saw men in hoodies running west on Madison Street. He said he got out of his van and saw Sorrell, who was coming out of a nearby liquor store, fall to the ground after being struck by gunfire.

Friend testified only after she was arrested pursuant to a warrant issued by the trial judge. She testified that on the afternoon in question, she saw Cooper making a delivery to the Uncle Remus restaurant. She said she asked Cooper for money for her daughter and saw two men standing nearby. After Cooper gave her money, she stepped away from the truck and a man whom she identified as Fletcher grabbed her arm and cursed at her. Friend said Fletcher was wearing a skullcap and she did not see his hair. She could not describe his facial features or his height. She also said that she had never seen him before.

Friend testified that the two men entered the truck and closed the door, but she could see them through the truck windows. She said she saw Fletcher search through Cooper’s pockets while the other man held a gun on Cooper. Friend said she saw the men flee, Cooper pull out a gun and start shooting, gunshots fired back, and then Sorrell get shot.

Detective Bogucki testified that Friend identified a photograph of Fletcher. Bogucki said that Cooper picked out one photograph and said that it looked like one of the offenders, but he could not be positive. Bogucki said he then conducted a live lineup during which both Friend and Cooper identified Fletcher.

Debra Sanders, Fletcher’s ex-wife, testified that she had moved to Mississippi in December 1990—the same month the shooting occurred. She said she saw Fletcher two or three times that month, meeting each time in Memphis. She said the last visit was just a few days before Christmas, but she could not say the precise day. After meeting in Memphis, Sanders said that Fletcher drove to her home in Mississippi, which was two hours away, to see their daughter.

On February 25, 2005, the jury convicted Fletcher of first-degree murder. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Fletcher’s appeals were denied.

In 2011, Friend recanted her identification. She gave a sworn statement that when she was shown a photographic array and pointed to someone else, detectives Bogucki and Schalk moved her finger to Fletcher’s photo and said, “That’s right. That’s the one who did it.” Friend said that the officers then told her that Terry Rogers had identified Fletcher as the gunman. She also said that the detectives told her that Fletcher was a violent, bad man who was in jail for robbery.

When Fletcher went to trial, Friend said she did not want to testify because she did not want to identify him as the gunman. In her affidavit, Friend said that the first time she was asked to identify Fletcher, she was picked up by police for violating parole. She was taken to a police station where she picked out someone other than Fletcher. That’s when the detectives directed her to Fletcher. She said she was on house arrest some time later when the police picked her up again and brought her to the station where she viewed a live lineup. At that time, she picked out Fletcher, “the man police pointed out to me weeks earlier in the group of photos.” By the time Fletcher went to trial, Friend was in Cook County Jail on the parole violation charge. She said she was brought to court and testified in her jail uniform. After she testified, she was released.

Friend said she came forward because she “always wondered if I put the wrong person away.”

In 2011, Fletcher’s attorney, Jennifer Blagg, filed a petition seeking a new trial. The petition cited Friend’s recantation, as well as a statement from Cooper that he was never sure that Fletcher was involved. Cooper said that when the detectives first brought him a photo array, “I told the detectives the robbery had happened more than 12 years ago and I did not exactly recognize anyone in the pictures.” Cooper also said that he refused to testify before the grand jury that indicted Fletcher because “I was not sure…of my identification.”

In addition, Emmitt Wade gave a statement that the detectives came to him and wanted him to identify Fletcher. Wade said the officers, accompanied by the prosecutor Walker, showed him Fletcher’s photograph. They said that Fletcher was a bad man and in prison, and that they wanted him to identify Fletcher. Wade said he balked and the prosecutor then told the detectives to stand down from their demand.

The petition noted that in January 2012, a jury had found that detectives Bogucki and Schalk coerced witnesses to testify falsely to identify Thaddeus Jimenez as the gunman in a murder. Jimenez was convicted in 1994 and exonerated in 2009. A jury subsequently awarded Jimenez $25 million in damages. And in a previous case, a federal jury assessed damages of $66,000 against Bogucki and Schalk for their misconduct during the investigation of a police shooting.

Meanwhile, Fletcher filed a federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus. In October 2019, U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer granted the petition and ordered Fletcher’s conviction vacated. Judge Pallmeyer said that the affidavits of Cooper, Wade, and Friend were “highly troubling,” particularly in light of the verdict in the Jimenez case. In addition, Judge Pallmeyer found that Fletcher had received an unfair trial because Bogucki was allowed to testify that Rogers claimed to hear one of the robbers say the name “Fletcher” as they ran away. Rogers was not called as a witness, Judge Pallmeyer noted, and so Fletcher was denied the opportunity to cross-examine Rogers about the statement.

The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office moved to dismiss Fletcher’s conviction. On January 30, 2020, the motion was granted, and Fletcher was released.

In August 2020, Fletcher filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Chicago and Chicago police officers, including Bogucki and Schalk.

In October 2022, Fletcher was granted a certificate of innocence, and subsequently was awarded $268,960 in compensation from the state of Illinois.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 2/24/2020
Last Updated: 4/30/2023
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1990
Sentence:Life without parole
Age at the date of reported crime:27
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No