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Lavell Taylor

Other Cook County, Illinois exonerations
On August 11, 1996, a barbeque was held at 5140 South Lowe Avenue in Chicago, Illinois to celebrate Tyeshia Clinton’s return home from prison. Among guests she invited were 19-year-old Bruce Carter and 22-year-old Keith Baker, who were—as Clinton was—members of the Black Souls street gang.

When Carter, Baker and four others arrived, they walked through a gate and into the yard where there were about a dozen other young men, who were members of the Blackstones street gang—a South Side gang and rival of the West Side Black Souls.

As Clinton was talking to Carter and Baker, one of Blackstones asked if they knew where they were. Carter replied, “I’m on the South Side.” A Blackstone replied, “You don’t know where you at. You in Moe Town,” a reference to Blackstone territory.

One of the Blackstones, 19-year-old Daunte Anderson, would later testify that Carter “flinched” or jumped at him. Anderson and another Blackstone then began punching Carter and a brawl broke out. Carter and Baker were outnumbered. They were beaten and kicked until they managed to break free and run toward the house.

Two gunshots then rang out. Clinton was already inside the house when Carter and Baker came in. Carter was shot as he fled. Police were called—the district station was just a few minutes away–and paramedics were summoned. Carter died not long after of internal bleeding.

Clinton and others at the barbeque gave police the names of Blackstones gang members who were in the yard when the fight broke out. Within just a few hours, police had brought in 19-year-old Lavell Taylor, his 20-year-old brother Lowell, and Anderson. Detective James O’Brien reported that Baker was sitting in the detective area of the police station when Lavell was brought in. O’Brien said that Baker said that Lavell had handed a gun to Lowell, who then shot Carter. Not long after, Baker viewed a lineup containing Lowell and Anderson. He identified Lowell as the gunman and Anderson as the individual who said, “You in Motown” and punched Carter to start the brawl.

Crime scene photos showed that the car Carter, Baker, and their friends arrived in had been vandalized—windows were shattered and the tires were slashed.

Lavell Taylor, Lowell Taylor, and Anderson were charged with first-degree murder (Lavell was charged under the name Levell). Attorney Ray Prusack was hired to defend Lavell and Lowell. Prior to trial, Joyce Parker, mother of Lavell and Lowell, came to Prusack’s office with three young men who had been present during the brawl. They said that Lavell did not hand a gun to Lowell—Lowell had the gun all along. Prusack said he would not call them as witnesses because they would harm the case against Lowell.

In December 1998, Lavell, Lowell, and Anderson went to trial in Cook County Circuit Court. Lavell and Anderson chose to have their case decided by the judge without a jury. At the same time, a jury was selected to hear the evidence against Lowell.

Baker testified that he saw Lavell pass a gun to Lowell, who then shot Carter. He said that even though he was ahead of Carter as they ran from the brawl, he saw the gun being passed and the shots fired.

Although Baker initially claimed he had never possessed a weapon, he subsequently admitted during questioning that he had pled guilty previously on two occasions to unlawful possession of a firearm. He also claimed that he and Carter had not had a “single ounce of alcohol” that day. The autopsy showed that Carter’s blood-alcohol content was .098—above the legal driving limit. Baker also admitted that he never told the police at the scene that he saw the gun being passed.

Phillip Marshall, a 16-year-old member of the Blackstones, testified that just before the shooting, he was standing alone on the corner of 52nd Street and Lowe Avenue. He saw a fight break out down the block but did not see who was fighting. He testified that he was picked up by the police shortly after the shooting, spent the night at the police station, and testified before a grand jury the following day. Marshall testified that the police threatened to charge him in the case and told him he could help himself out of his pending legal problems if he cooperated in this case and implicated Lowell as the gunman.

Marshall was impeached with his grand jury testimony that as he ran from the scene, he saw a gun in Lowell’s hand. Detective O’Brien and Chicago police officer Thomas Glynn, who picked up Marshall for questioning, each testified that they did not threaten Marshall or offer him any favors in exchange for implicating Lowell.

The defense lawyers did not call any witnesses. They argued to the judge and to the jury that Baker and Marshall were not credible due to their criminal backgrounds.

On April 2, 1998, the jury convicted Lowell of first-degree murder. Judge Daniel Kelley then convicted Lavell of first-degree murder. Judge Kelly acquitted Anderson, finding that “[A]lthough he may have been the instigator,” his part “was minimal. There’s nothing to show that he had knowledge of any weapons or did anything other than punch [Carter].”

In September 1998, Judge Kelley sentenced Lowell to 45 years in prison and Lavell to 35 years in prison.

In May 2001, the Illinois Appellate Court upheld Lavell’s and Lowell’s convictions.

In November 2001, Lavell filed a post-conviction petition, claiming his trial had been unfair because Prusack failed to call the three witnesses who would have testified that Lavell did not hand a gun to Lowell. The witnesses testified at an evidentiary hearing as did Daunte Anderson.

Anderson testified that he did not see Lowell shoot the victim, but that he saw Lowell holding a gun after the shooting. Anderson said that at the time of the shooting, Lavell “was on the side of the building destroying the [Carter’s] car.” Anderson conceded that he could not see Lavell and Carter’s car at the time.

Lavell testified that he was “the one busting out the car windows” of Carter’s car.

The petition was denied in 2005. In 2008, the Illinois Appellate Court upheld the denial.

In March 2010, the Illinois Supreme Court also upheld the denial. The court held that Lavell had “failed to demonstrate how an actual conflict of interest adversely affected Prusak’s performance…The circuit court found more credible Prusak’s testimony that his decision not to call [Lavell’s] proffered witnesses was not attributable to any alleged conflict of interest, but rather was based on trial strategy and tactics, and Prusak’s professional judgment.”

In November 2010, Patricia Mysza, an attorney in the Office of the State Appellate Defender, filed a federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus based on a claim that Prusack had a conflict of interest. In June 2012, U.S. District Judge Gary Feinerman denied the petition. Mysza appealed.

In July 2013, the Seventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ordered a hearing. The court ruled that Prusack had a conflict of interest, but remanded the case for an evidentiary hearing on whether the conflict adversely affected Prusack’s performance. On August 26, 2013, Lavell was released on bond.

The Cook County State’s Attorney’s office ultimately conceded that Lavell was entitled to a new trial. In April 2015, Lavell, represented by attorneys Allen Freedman and John Magrisso, went to a trial for a second time, choosing to have his case decided by a judge rather than a jury.

During the retrial, Baker testified only after he was arrested on a contempt of court warrant. He had to be prompted by the prosecutor to testify that he heard Lowell ask for the gun. He admitted he did not see the shooting occur. He admitted that he did not tell the police at the scene that Lavell had handed the gun to Lowell.

Daunte Anderson testified for the defense and said that Detective O'Brien had questioned him. Anderson said that O’Brien told him to give a statement that he saw Lavell give the gun to Lowell. Daunte said he refused and was charged with murder.

On May 13, 2015, Cook County Circuit Court Judge Timothy Joyce acquitted Lavell.

In 2017, attorneys Joel and Kenneth Flaxman filed a federal civil rights lawsuit on behalf of Lavell. The lawsuit claimed that O'Brien coerced Baker to falsely implicate Lavell. The lawsuit noted that O'Brien had been the subject of 36 allegations of fabrication of evidence, including coerced confessions, from 1989 to 2002.

In addition, the Illinois Torture Inquiry Commission, which was created to investigate claims of false and coerced confessions by Chicago police, including Lieutenant Jon Burge, identified O'Brien as an officer who committed misconduct to concoct evidence. He also was accused of coercing a witness to falsely identify Robert Wilson as her attacker. In addition, O'Brien was accused of engaging in physical abuse during interrogations in the false convictions of Sean Tyler and Reginald Henderson.

In November 2021, the city of Chicago agreed to pay $175,000 to settle the lawsuit.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 12/17/2021
Last Updated: 12/17/2021
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1996
Sentence:35 years
Age at the date of reported crime:19
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No