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David Wright

Other Cook County, Illinois exonerations with a juvenile defendant
After 10 p.m. on Friday, March 25, 1994, 26-year-old Robert Smith and 16-year-old Tyrone Rockett left Smith’s home at 5936 S. Parnell Avenue, Chicago, to walk to a convenience store a block away at 59th Street and Normal Avenue to buy cookies and soda.

Kain Sheppard, who was behind them in line, emerged from the store after Rockett and Smith had departed. Shortly after, Sheppard heard gunshots near Smith’s house. When Sheppard went to the house, he saw Smith and Rockett lying in the backyard. Both had been shot in the head. Smith was dead. Rockett died at the hospital soon after.

Rockett had been shot once in the right side of the head; Smith had been shot once in the left side of the head. The bullets were recovered during autopsies. A Chicago police firearms examiner testified that the bullets were too deformed to say whether they came from the same gun.

Evidence technicians recovered gym shoes, a stocking hat, and a grocery bag from the scene.

The following day, a man named Edward Nash told his Cook County probation officer, Demetria Pickett, that he and a “partner” had shot two men because of an argument over drugs. Nash was a member of the Vice Lords street gang and sold drugs in the area where the shooting occurred. He said the shooting happened near 59th Street and Parnell Avenue and that “one of the guys died.”

Pickett reported the conversation to police, and Nash was arrested in neighboring DuPage County on an outstanding warrant. The officers prepared a one-page police report saying that the detectives handling the murder investigation had been contacted and were en route. However, no other reports were ever written documenting whether the detectives talked to Nash or why he was not considered a suspect.

Five months later, on August 22, 1994, one of the detectives on the case, James Cassidy, reported that he received a telephone call from a woman who identified herself as Sheila Atkins. Cassidy said she reported that the individuals responsible for the double murder were two Black teenagers named David and John and that they lived near where the shooting occurred. Although Atkins did not say if she saw the shooting or the source of her information –and Cassidy did not take any contact information for Atkins – Cassidy and his partner, detective Richard Zuley, went to the neighborhood. By asking around, they eventually made their way to 5947 S. Eggleston Avenue, where 18-year-old John Wright and 17-year-old David Wright lived with their mother, two blocks from where the murders occurred.

David and John were not home, but the officers obtained their dates of birth from their mother. They conducted a background check, and learned that John had an outstanding warrant for possession of a controlled substance.

In the predawn hours of August 23, 1994, Cassidy, Zuley, and other officers came to the house without a warrant. They went to the second floor apartment and arrested John. They took him to a squad car where Cassidy said he told him about the warrant, but said his primary interest was the murders of Smith and Rockett. John then said, “If that’s what this is all about, you talk to my brother, David.” John said that David was sleeping on the first floor to watch over the belongings of their grandmother, who was in the process of moving out.

Zuley went in the back door and rousted David with a flashlight and a gun to his head. Zuley then yelled for assistance, and three officers broke down the front door and raced inside. David, who had been asleep for about three hours, was led out in handcuffs, and both brothers were taken to the police station.

The brothers were separated and interrogated. David denied any knowledge of the crime. Early in the afternoon, Cassidy showed David, who was a ninth-grade dropout who could not read or write, a piece of paper containing a statement made by his brother. Cassidy said that prior to the shooting, Rockett and Smith had been beating up David in the days before the murders. On the night of the shooting, according to John, he saw David walking with Rockett and Smith into Smith’s backyard, and then heard gunshots. John said he went to the backyard and saw both victims on the ground. Cassidy said that John said that two days later, David told John that he shot them because they “tried to make a bitch out of him.”

Cassidy later reported that in response, David said that on the night of the crime, he saw Smith and Rockett outside of Smith’s home. They waved him over and invited him into the back of the house to get something to eat. However, David said that when they got to the backyard, Rocket grabbed him by the throat and Smith pulled out a gun. David said he ducked as Smith pulled the trigger and the bullet struck Rockett. When Rockett fell, David said he ran, with Smith in pursuit.

David said Smith caught him, they struggled, and the gun went off, shooting Smith in the head. David said he picked up the gun and ran away. He said he threw the gun into a sewer.

David would later say Cassidy dictated this narrative to him, and he agreed with it to follow his brother’s lead.

During the course of the interrogation, David was told that because John was older, he would face the death penalty if convicted while David, as a juvenile, would only receive 10 to 25 years. Signing a statement would benefit him, the detectives said.

At this point, a Cook County assistant state’s attorney, Steve Klaczynski, was called. Eventually, another statement was obtained from John. In that statement, John said he was talking with a friend named Noel at about 11 p.m. on the night of the shooting. John said he and Noel passed David near Smith’s house. A moment later, as they continued walking, he heard gunshots. Two days later, David told John that he shot them, according to the statement.

Cassidy said he confronted David with this statement, and also told David that his account was physically impossible because Rockett and Smith had been shot to death in the backyard and were lying together. At that point, David denied any involvement in the crime. He gave the detectives the names of three people he had been with on the day of the shooting, including John’s girlfriend, Carol Wise. Cassidy and Klaczynski left the station and located Wise at about 7 p.m. She signed a statement saying she was not with David that day.

At around 8 p.m., Cassidy confronted David with Wise’s statement. David denied being involved in the shooting. At that point, David had been in the station nearly 14 hours, his arm chained to a wall. Cassidy went home and detective Kenneth Boudreau took over the investigation. David later testified that Boudreau came into the interrogation room, choked him, and shoved him against the wall with an elbow against his neck.

After 10:30 p.m., David, sleep-deprived and relying on the false promises of leniency, signed a statement confessing to the murders. He would later say he never read the statement. During his time in the interrogation room, he did not speak to his parents or a youth officer as required by law for a juvenile.

John Wright was released. He later testified before a grand jury and repeated his account. David was indicted on two counts of first-degree murder.

Prior to trial, David’s defense lawyer filed motions to quash the arrest as being without probable cause, thus requiring that David’s statement be suppressed. The motion to quash the arrest without a warrant was granted. The defense filed a separate motion to suppress the confession, although it did not mention that he had been denied the right to have his parents or a youth officer present. On March 27, 1996, Cook County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Hett ruled David’s statement was sufficiently attenuated from the arrest to be allowed to be used at trial.

Hett said the police were “a little bit too quick to make their arrest, but the treatment that I have found once he got into the police station certainly can’t be characterized as egregious in any way, shape or form.” Judge Hett did not believe David’s claim of being physically abused by Detective Boudreau.

In October 1996, David went to trial. The prosecution’s case was based primarily on the testimony of Cassidy and Klaczynski. Detective James Halloran, who was Detective Boudreau’s partner, denied that David had been mistreated during the interrogation. Judge Hett denied a defense request to call the probation officer, Garrett, to testify about Nash’s admission.

During the defense opening statement, David’s attorney claimed the evidence would show that John had falsely implicated his brother to cover up John’s involvement in the crime. However, when John took the witness stand, he admitted that he falsely accused David. John claimed he was scared by the police and wanted to get them off his back.

John also testified that he and his friend, Noel Hall, saw Rockett and Smith at the store. John said he made plans to meet them at Smith’s house because he wanted to get a set of car keys so he could go get something to eat. John told the jury that he and Noel were about three houses away from Smith’s house when they heard gunshots. John said he saw two people running away on the railroad tracks behind Smith’s house. John said he and Noel saw the bodies on the ground and ran away.

On November 1, 1996, the jury convicted David of two counts of first-degree murder. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

The First District Illinois Appellate Court upheld the conviction in 1998. A pro se petition seeking post-conviction relief was denied in 1999. In 2000, David, still acting as his own lawyer, filed a federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus. That was denied in 2004.

In 2009, the Exoneration Project at the University of Chicago Law School began representing David. In 2013, a motion to file a successive post-conviction petition was filed. A separate motion challenging the life sentence based on the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Miller v. Alabama, which outlawed life without parole sentences for juveniles, and could be applied retroactively, was also filed. That motion was ultimately granted, and David was resentenced to 65 years in prison.

In 2014, a motion for DNA testing was granted, but nothing of value was found during the testing process.

Subsequently, a revised post-conviction petition was filed. The motion detailed nearly 90 allegations of similar physical abuse and coercive conduct by Boudreau, Halloran, Zuley, and Cassidy in other cases.

The petition noted that Hall, who had not been interviewed by David’s defense lawyer for the trial, said that he saw two men flee the scene of the shooting, and that David was not one of them. Noel also said that he believed Rockett and Smith were shot because of an ongoing dispute between Rockett and his girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend.

Moreover, John Wright had given an expanded statement, saying that when he came upon the two bodies, he fired gunshots at the fleeing perpetrators. He said he was afraid that if he told the truth, police would accuse him of the crime. John also said for the first time that prior to the shooting, Rockett approached him, and asked if John could get him a gun because Rockett felt threatened by his girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend.

The petition cited a 2001 article in the Chicago Tribune newspaper, “Veteran Detective’s Cases Unravel,” which detailed numerous cases in which Boudreau and Halloran obtained false confessions. These included the cases of Harold Hill and Dan Young Jr., who were exonerated in 2005. Other cases which resulted in exonerations included Lathierial Boyd, Lee Harris, Arnold Day, Anthony Jakes, and Tyrone Hood. Other cases included Reginald Henderson and Sean Tyler as well as Robert Wilson.

Cassidy, Boudreau and other detectives were involved in the wrongful convictions of Terrill Swift, Michael Saunders, Harold Richardson, and Vincent Thames, known as the Englewood Four.

Exoneration Project attorneys David Owens and Myerscough-Mueller argued that the evidence of misconduct by the detectives in the vast array of other cases was impeaching evidence that could have been used to undercut David’s case. Halloran was involved in the wrongful conviction of Marcellous Pittman as well.

The petition also noted that the defense failed to present testimony from a friend of David’s, Stephanie Johnson, that she saw David nearly every day, and that David never had any problems with Rockett or Smith. She never knew David to be bullied or beaten by either of them, the petition said. In addition, Johnson could have introduced the defense to several other witnesses who were with David on the night of the crime and could have testified that he was not involved.

On August 30, 2022, Cook County Circuit Court Judge Carol Howard vacated David’s convictions and ordered a new trial. “The Court finds, after a careful review of all the documentation submitted and the common law record, that Mr. Wright has established that it is more likely than not that a reasonable trier of fact could find after reviewing the pattern and practice…of police misconduct…that the statements should be suppressed at a new suppression hearing.”

On September 17, 2022, David was released on bond pending a possible retrial. He had been in prison for nearly 26 years from the date of his conviction.

On March 29, 2023, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office dismissed the case.

In May 2023, the murder conviction of Carl Reed , which had been based on a false confession obtained by Zuley and other detectives was vacated and the charges were dismissed.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 4/20/2023
Last Updated: 6/15/2023
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1994
Sentence:Life without parole
Age at the date of reported crime:17
Contributing Factors:False Confession, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No