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Thomas Lenoir

Other Cook County, Illinois exonerations with no crime
On April 3, 2017, Chicago police arrested 55-year-old Thomas Lenoir for stealing the car belonging to Tracey Johnson, the mother of his child.

On the day he was arrested, a police car drove down the alley behind Lenoir’s home and saw the vehicle, a white 2002 Infiniti, with the engine running and the doors unlocked. One of the two officers in the car ran a computer check and determined that the car had been reported stolen.

At about that time, Lenoir approached and said he would move the car because he did not want to get a ticket. Officer Nicholas Morales asked if it was his car. Lenoir replied, “Yeah, yeah, I’ll move it.”

Morales’s partner then told Lenoir he was under arrest and took him away in handcuffs. The police reported that Lenoir said he had possession of the car “because [Johnson] was in jail.”

In December 2017, Lenoir went to trial in Cook County Circuit Court.

Officer Morales testified that when he got to the police station, he called Johnson and left a message saying that her car had been recovered. The following day, Morales got a call from a woman who identified herself as Johnson. When he asked her how she knew Lenoir, the caller said all the information was in her initial report and abruptly hung up.

Morales said the woman hung up before he could ask her whether she had given Lenoir permission to drive the car. He said he called back several times, but never spoke to Johnson.

Johnson testified that she owned the car. She said she had known Lenoir for about 10 years. She said that in March 2017, she told Lenoir she was paying a co-worker $40 a week to take her back and forth to work because she did not have a driver’s license. Johnson told the jury that at Lenoir’s urging, she bought the car with the intention that he would drive her to and from work and take her children to and from school.

On March 12, 2017, Lenoir was driving Johnson from his home to her home when police stopped the car because it had tinted windows. Although Johnson was in the passenger seat, police ran her name through the computer and learned that she had an outstanding traffic warrant. She was arrested.

Johnson testified that Lenoir was supposed to take the car “and my belongings” to Johnson’s home, where she lived with her mother. She testified that Lenoir was not supposed to drive the car anywhere without her in it, though she did not testify that she ever told that to Lenoir.

Five days later, on March 17, Johnson was released from jail. She said that when the car was not at her mother’s house, she went by Lenoir’s house, but didn’t see the vehicle. She said she tried to contact him over the next two weeks, going to the house either “over five times” or “more than 10 times,” and tried to call him “three or four times,” but did not contact him.

She said that the final time she went to the house, she saw Lenoir come outside, get in the car and drive away. She said she spoke to him briefly but admitted she did not ask for the car back.

On March 25, 2017, after this encounter, Johnson reported the car stolen.

Johnson denied hanging up on the police when she learned the car had been impounded and Lenoir had been arrested. Lenoir’s wife and a friend took Johnson to get the car back from the police impound lot.

The defense presented no evidence and asked the judge to acquit Lenoir based on insufficient evidence that Lenoir knew the car had been reported stolen and that he was not supposed to be driving the car.

On December 12, 2017, the jury convicted Lenoir of possession of a stolen vehicle. Due to prior convictions when he was a teenager, Lenoir was subject to mandatory sentencing provisions. He was sentenced to eight years and six months in prison.

On March 18, 2021, Lenoir was released on parole. Three days later, the First District Illinois Appellate Court reversed the conviction for insufficient evidence and ordered the case dismissed.

“Johnson did not testify that she directly told Lenoir he could not possess the car while she was in jail,” the court noted. “She also failed to offer any evidence that she informed Lenoir she wanted the car returned when she was released from jail.”

“The state did not prove knowledge, and Lenoir need not disprove his guilt,” the court declared.

Dorothy Brown, an attorney for Lenoir, subsequently filed a petition for a certificate of innocence for Lenoir. Attached to the motion was an affidavit from Lenoir in which he said he believed Johnson was angry at him because she blamed him for notifying the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services that Johnson’s father, a convicted sex offender who was not supposed to be around children, had moved into the home with Johnson, Johnson’s mother and Johnson’s two children, one of whom was Lenoir’s child.

On February 14, 2022, Cook County Circuit Court Judge Erica Reddick granted the motion.

Brown then filed a claim for compensation for Lenoir with the Illinois Court of Claims. In June 2022, the Court of Claims awarded Lenoir $50,000, of which $10,000 was for Brown.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 12/12/2022
Last Updated: 12/12/2022
Most Serious Crime:Theft
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2017
Sentence:8 years and 6 months
Age at the date of reported crime:55
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No