Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content

Cordell Williams

Other Cook County, Illinois homicide exonerations
Shortly before midnight on May 25, 1994, 18-year-old Myron Cochran and 19-year-old Billy Johnson were gunned down inside the Honey Submarine Shop at 74th and Halsted Streets in Chicago, Illinois.

Alexander Pratt later told police he had ordered a cheeseburger when Cochran and Johnson came in. He said Cochran was at the counter looking up at the menu on the wall, with money in his hand, while Johnson was standing looking out the front window with his back to the counter.

Pratt said he got his order, looked in the bag to make sure the order was correct, and started to leave. At that point, a man came in holding a handgun. The man walked up to Cochran and, without a word, shot Cochran in the back of the head. The man then fired at Johnson, hitting him in the head. The man turned, shot Cochran once more, and then shot Johnson twice more before running outside.

At this point, Pratt, who was in front of the subway shop, began running down Halsted Street. When he was about fifty feet away, he turned and saw the gunman get into a vehicle just north of 74th and Halsted.

Off-duty Chicago Police Detective Stan Sanders was in his car at a stoplight at 74th and Halsted when he heard several shots. He later said he saw Pratt and then the gunman running from the shop. Sanders said he started to follow the gunman, who began running north on Halsted. Sanders said the gunman stumbled and fell to the ground. Sanders got out of his car and ordered the gunman to stop. But the gunman continued to run. Sanders said a car pulled out of a parking spot and the rear door on the driver’s side opened. The gunman reached out, grabbed an outstretched hand, and got into the car.

Sanders ran back to his car and tried to follow, but lost the vehicle after a brief chase, during which he reached a speed of 70 miles per hour. During the chase, Sanders memorized the license plate number from the vehicle.

When police got to the shop, Cochran had died on the floor, still clutching $3. Johnson was still breathing but died at the hospital.

In the shop, police recovered five spent .45-caliber cartridge casings and one spent bullet. Frank DeMarco, a Chicago Police forensic investigator, later testified that the bullet and spent cartridges were consistent with being fired from a .45 Ruger semi-automatic handgun.

Meanwhile, Sanders reported the license plate number, and a check showed it was registered to 7622 South Carpenter Street. Nineteen-year-old Cordell Williams came to the door and said he had been driving the car but had gotten home at 10:30 p.m. Police said the car was still hot as if it had been recently driven. Officer Sanders came to the scene and identified the car as the one he saw the gunman enter.

At 1:30 a.m., Williams was arrested and taken to the police station. At about 3:55 a.m., Williams was interrogated for the first time. He told police that earlier in the evening, he picked up two of his friends, who he identified as Veno and Chris, and that they had gone to Northwestern Hospital to visit a friend. Williams said they “did some drinking,” and he then dropped off Veno and Chris and was home at 10:30 p.m. He denied any knowledge of the shooting.

Three hours later, at about 7:00 a.m., Williams was advised of his Miranda rights. Williams again said he had gone to Northwestern Hospital with Veno and Chris to visit Paris McMoore, who had been shot. He said they left about 8 p.m. and went to Veno's house where they had drinks. Williams said he left Veno's house with two or three others who he did not know. Williams said that at some point, he stopped the car.

He then interrupted himself. “I am not responsible for what happened next,” Williams said. “It wasn't my fault.”

At that point, the interrogation ended.

In the morning, police confirmed that Williams had been at Northwestern. By 1:30 p.m. on May 26, 1994, Williams’s father came to the station. According to police, not long after, Williams admitted that he was the driver of the car. He said that the gunman was named Dave and his nickname was “Day.” After officers drove around and didn’t find this person, the investigation was turned over to Detectives James O’Brien and William Foley.

According to Williams, O’Brien told him that he was going to leave the interrogation room and when he returned, Williams would be ready to make a statement.

Soon after, according to Williams, Detective William Foley came into the interrogation room and asked him to stand up. Williams said he stood up and Foley slammed him in the abdomen with a phone book, causing him to lose his wind. Foley then slapped him in the face, Williams later said, and then left.

O’Brien came back and reported that Williams’s father had arrived. O’Brien told him that if Williams cooperated and gave a statement, Williams could go home.

Several hours later, Williams gave a statement, which he later said was crafted by O’Brien. In the statement, Williams identified the gunman as David Evans, whom he knew as “DAYDAY.” He said Evans had put a gun in the trunk of Williams’s car earlier in the day.

According to the statement, Williams was driving by the submarine shop when Evans yelled at him to stop because there were opposing gang members in the shop. Williams said in the statement that he knew that when Evans got the gun out of the trunk of the car that Evans was going to shoot people in the shop. This statement was false, Williams later said, but he made it because Foley had beaten him.

During the interrogation, Williams’s father arrived. Williams broke down, sobbing, and said he had not killed anyone. His father told him to cooperate. Williams said he had been beaten—that his face was “putty.” At that point, according to Williams, O’Brien took him back into the interrogation room and went over his statement, which was then given to a prosecutor.

At 2:30 a.m. on May 27, about 24 hours after Williams was arrested, he gave a court-reported statement and was charged with two counts of first-degree murder. Evans was subsequently arrested and charged with both murders as well.

On June 26, 1995, Williams went to trial in Cook County Circuit Court. Detective O’Brien said that Williams voluntarily confessed to knowing that Evans was going to shoot opposing gang members in the submarine shop. Based on that testimony and the statement Williams gave, Williams was convicted on June 29, 1995. He was sentenced to life in prison. Evans also was convicted and was sentenced to natural life in prison. Evans was later resentenced to 60 years in prison because he was a juvenile at the time of the crime.

In 1999, the First District Illinois Appellate Court upheld Williams’s conviction.

By that time, allegations had surfaced that detectives under the command of Chicago Police Lieutenant Jon Burge were torturing suspects to falsely confess to murders. Burge was fired and later convicted in federal court of lying during depositions in federal lawsuits. Dozens of convictions were overturned because defendants showed they had been tortured until they falsely confessed.

Subsequently, allegations were made that officers who had worked under Burge’s command had engaged in similar conduct in later years, including Foley and O’Brien.

After the state of Illinois established the Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission in 2009, numerous murder convictions were eventually overturned based on evidence of torture by Burge and his detectives. Subsequently, an independent panel was convened to investigate cases involving officers who had worked as detectives under Burge.

In 2022, the panel reviewed Williams’s case as well as the long history of Foley and O’Brien physically abusing suspects during interrogations. The panel ultimately recommended that the conviction be vacated.

In July 2022, Williams’s attorney, Steven Becker, filed a petition seeking a new trial for Williams. The petition cited numerous other cases in which Foley and O’Brien had engaged in misconduct, including physical abuse, during interrogations that led to false confessions.

“Repeatedly hitting a suspect in custody and refusing to permit a suspect to go to the bathroom for 24 hours despite repeated requests is not an acceptable means of interrogation,” the petition said.

The petition said that Williams gave his statement because he had been physically abused and believed he had no choice but to say what Detective O’Brien told him to say.

The petition also faulted Williams’s attorney for withdrawing a pretrial motion to suppress the statement. No reason was ever given for withdrawing the motion.

On October 17, 2022, based on the independent review panel’s recommendation, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office agreed to vacate William’s conviction. After the conviction was vacated, the case was dismissed, and Williams was released.

– Maurice Possley

Report an error or add more information about this case.

Posting Date: 12/20/2022
Last Updated: 12/20/2022
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1994
Sentence:Life without parole
Age at the date of reported crime:19
Contributing Factors:False Confession, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No