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Robert Hill

Other Cook County, Illinois exonerations
Shortly after 8 p.m. on November 25, 2005, a gunman entered Frank’s Food and Liquors in Robbins, Illinois. He shot and wounded the 67-year-old owner, Fakhri Elayyan, and then fatally shot Elayyan’s 27-year-old daughter, Ghada.

The following day, 36-year-old Carnell Tyler came to the Robbins police department and claimed he needed protection from the people of Robbins, a suburb south of Chicago. He was questioned about the shooting and police claimed that he told them that he and 17-year-old Darian Nance committed the crime. According to police, Tyler said that Nance was the gunman and that afterward, they both ran to a nearby public housing development.

Despite this statement, Tyler was released.

Based on a tip from an informant, police interviewed 36-year-old Robert Hill on November 27, 2005. He denied any involvement or knowledge of the crime.

On November 28, police picked up Tyler again. He was questioned and released once more.

Police then questioned Terry Holloway and Carlos Tyler, both of whom were facing unrelated criminal charges. Ultimately, both implicated Carnell Tyler, Nance and Hill in the crime. Carlos was Carnell’s uncle.

According to the police narrative of the crime, Hill drove Nance and Tyler to the liquor store in his truck and waited in a church parking lot while Nance first went in to see who was inside. Assured that the store was empty of customers, Tyler went in, followed by Nance. Then, Tyler shot Fakhri and Ghada.

However, there was a customer who unwittingly came into the store as the shooting started and quickly backed out. She told police the parking lot was devoid of vehicles.

On December 6, Carnell Tyler, Nance, and Hill were arrested. However, neither Nance or Hill were charged. Both were released after prosecutors found the statements of Carlos Tyler and Terry Holloway to be not credible.

By the fall of 2007, Carnell Tyler was the only person charged with the crime. He was awaiting trial on charges of first-degree murder, first-degree attempted murder, and armed robbery for the murder of Ghada and wounding of Fakhri.

At that point, the Cook County Sheriff’s office became involved in the investigation of the case. On October 29, 2007, Hill was brought in for questioning. During that interrogation, Hill insisted he knew nothing about the crime. When the detectives said they would personally drive him home and not arrest him if Hill passed a polygraph examination, Hill agreed.

He signed a waiver of his Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination and submitted to the test, which was videotaped. The polygraph examiner concluded Hill was truthful when he denied involvement in the crime. Hill was released.

However, on November 26, Hill was arrested and charged with first-degree murder, first-degree attempted murder, and armed robbery. The detectives asserted that Hill had “missed a beat” during the examination, which indicated deception.

Nance was charged as well. He reached an agreement with the prosecution to testify against Tyler and Hill. In return, he pled guilty to armed robbery and was sentenced to 23 years in prison.

Prior to going to trial, Hill’s defense lawyer, Dennis Sherman, filed a motion to dismiss the charges, arguing that the detectives had made a promise not to prosecute Hill if he passed the polygraph. Sherman argued that the detectives had entered into an “enforceable contract” in which, if he passed the polygraph, he would be immunized from prosecution.

A hearing on the motion was held in July 2009 before Cook County Circuit Court Judge Frank Zelezinski. Hill testified that the detectives promised he would not be charged if he passed the test. Sherman did not present the report of the waiver or the videotape of the interrogation or the videotape of the polygraph examination.

Judge Zelezinski denied the motion. He ruled that without the participation of the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, there was no binding agreement.

Hill went to trial before Judge Zelezinski and chose to have the judge decide the case without a jury. Sherman, Hill’s defense lawyer, would later concede that he persuaded Hill to take the bench trial because he thought Zelezinski would be influenced by the knowledge that Hill had passed the polygraph—even though Sherman knew the polygraph was not admissible evidence.

The trial stretched out over many months. Eventually, Terry Holloway and Carlos Tyler testified, as did Nance. They claimed that Carnell Tyler was angry at Ghada because she and Tyler had quarreled over some lottery tickets.

They claimed that Nance provided the gun—a .380-caliber pistol—and that Hill drove them to the store and waited in the parking lot while Nance followed Tyler into the store where the shooting occurred.

Carlos Tyler and Holloway both admitted they were using drugs at the time of the events to which they testified. Both had been granted immunity from prosecution.

Fakhri testified and said he had identified Tyler as the gunman after he emerged from a coma several weeks after the shooting. Fakhri said he did not see Ghada get shot because he passed out. As he recalled, Nance came in first, followed by Carnell—despite Nance’s claim that Carnell came in first.

Hill testified that he was living at his mother’s house in Calumet Park, another southern suburb of Chicago, at the time of the crime. He said he knew Nance and Carnell from the housing projects, but did not take part in the crime. He said he had sold drugs to Holloway and Carlos in the past and that at the time of the crime, both of them owed him money. He said that he had never been to Holloway’s residence and that Nance had never been in his vehicle.

He said that on the night of the crime he helped his mother put up Christmas tree lights until about 8:10 p.m., then drove to Robbins after dropping his children off. He went to the housing project to drop off a car jack to Michael Weatherspoon and to sell drugs. Hill said that at about 8:25 p.m.—the shooting was at about 8 p.m.—Carnell came up to him and asked for a ride out of Robbins. Hill said he declined to give Carnell a ride, but did sell him some drugs.

On July 18, 2012, Judge Zelezinski convicted Hill of first-degree murder, first-degree attempted murder, and armed robbery, though he noted that there were numerous inconsistencies in the accounts provided by Nance, Carlos, and Holloway. Zelezinski sentenced Hill to 70 years in prison. </div

Acting on his own, Hill filed a motion for a new trial arguing that his defense lawyer, Sherman, had failed to call alibi witnesses, including his mother and Weatherspoon, to whom Hill had delivered the car jack, as well as Parnell Moore, who was present when Hill delivered the jack. The motion also contained a statement from Carnell saying that Hill was not involved in the crime.

Sherman told the judge that Hill never mentioned his mother. And while he may have known about Weatherspoon, Sherman said he didn’t think being with Weatherspoon at 8:30 p.m. was a helpful alibi.

However, Hill had offered all of this information during his interrogation, which had been videotaped. The crime, according to police records, occurred at 8:21 p.m.

Hill accused Sherman of staking the case on the polygraph. Sherman testified, “Well, Judge, because of trial strategy, I convinced him not to take a jury trial, because you had heard testimony, he passed the polygraph. I believed at that time, and even though it is of no legal concern…I find it difficult to believe anybody—when they find out that the man has passed the polygraph—would [not] consider that. I know you’re not suppose[d] to—you’re suppose[d] to segregate it. But I did convince the defendant [that] I thought with a bench trial he had a better chance, because you did know that he passed the polygra[ph]. That is true. I know what the laws are, Judge, but I do know we are human, Judge.”

The motion for a new trial was denied.

Whitney Price, an attorney in the Office of the State Appellate Defender, appealed. At her urging, the case was remanded to the trial court for a full hearing on the motion to dismiss in light of a ruling in an unrelated case. In that case, which was decided in 2015, the Illinois Supreme Court held that the prosecution could be bound by agreements made by police officers without the State’s Attorney’s authorization.

When the case came back to the trial court, Hill came to be represented by Joshua Tepfer, an attorney with the Exoneration Project at the University of Chicago School of Law, and Jeffrey Urdangen, an attorney at the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law Bluhm Legal Clinic.

Because Judge Zelezinski had retired, the case was transferred to Cook County Circuit Court Judge Carl Boyd. During a hearing, the defense presented the videotape of the polygraph examination, a copy of Hill’s Fifth Amendment waiver, the videotape of the interrogation, and an agreed stipulation that the polygraph examiner, if called to testify, would say that Hill had, in his opinion, been truthful in his denial of involvement in the crime.

A transcript of the interrogation revealed what the officers had said to convince Hill to take the polygraph.

A detective said: “And, and as quick as it’s over and everybody tells me you’re good to go, I personally will drive you home.”

“Okay,” Hill said.

“As you know those things are very accurate,” the detective said. “Can’t be used against you in court…It’s just a tool we use to see how honest you’re being with me. If he comes out and says this guy is totally 100 percent telling you the truth, then we’re in a car, I’m driving you home.”

“Yes, sir. Yes, sir,” Hill said.

“And if he says Mr. Robert Hill is tell you guys the truth—”

Hill interjected: “I am telling you the truth, sir.”

“Then,” the detective continued. “I will shake your hand. I’ll apologize for bringing you here and I’ll take you home. I promise you that.”

The evidence showed that Hill took the polygraph, and, after the examiner concluded he was truthful, he was released.

On September 26, 2017, Judge Boyd granted the motion to vacate the convictions and dismiss the case.

Judge Boyd ruled that the conversation between Hill and the detectives showed an offer, acceptance, and meeting of the minds that formed an enforceable cooperation agreement in which Hill would not be arrested or charged if he passed a polygraph test. The judge further found that Hill detrimentally relied on the agreement by waiving his fifth amendment privilege. Hill, the judge ruled, fulfilled his part of the bargain by undergoing the polygraph and passing it. The prosecution had breached the agreement by later arresting and prosecuting him. The judge then dismissed the indictment.

Hill was released in December 2017. That same year, Sherman was disbarred by agreement after he converted to his personal use $5,500 in funds paid by clients in criminal cases.

The prosecution elected to return to the Illinois Appellate Court to argue that Judge Boyd’s ruling was wrong. On May 27, 2021, the Appellate Court ruled that it did not have jurisdiction to hear the appeal. When the convictions were vacated and the case was dismissed, the matter was no longer before it, the court declared.

The court said, “We do not have jurisdiction to consider the State’s challenge…. Accordingly, we dismiss this appeal.”

Hill filed a petition for a certificate of innocence,, but it was denied in 2023. He also had filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the detectives and the Robbins police department. In 2022, Hill’s lawyers voluntarily dismissed the lawsuit and refiled it in Cook County Circuit Court.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 5/24/2022
Last Updated: 4/18/2023
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Attempted Murder, Robbery
Reported Crime Date:2005
Sentence:70 years
Age at the date of reported crime:36
Contributing Factors:False or Misleading Forensic Evidence, Perjury or False Accusation, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No