Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content

Carl Reed

Other Cook County, Illinois exonerations with guilty pleas
On July 19, 2001, the body of 66-year-old Kim Van Vo was found in his apartment in an assisted living facility on the north side of Chicago, Illinois. DeLong Reed, who shared a bathroom with Van Vo, reported a foul odor. The door to the apartment was found double locked with the dead bolt fastened.

When police forced their way in, they found Van Vo’s body in the middle of the studio apartment in an advanced state of decomposition. He had been stabbed 11 times. A white towel covered his face, and a pink towel covered his legs. Underneath his body was a five-inch steel knife blade without a handle. About two dozen hairs were recovered, some from Van Vo’s right hand.

The apartment was in disarray. Dresser drawers were open. A stereo cabinet had been moved away from the wall. There was no sign of forced entry. The front door had no signs of damage to the door or frame. The door to the shared bathroom was latched from the inside of the apartment. The keys to the apartment and to Van Vo’s car were there.

Swabs were taken of suspected blood found on the inside of a closet door, as well as from a smudge on a fish tank.

Detectives Richard Zuley and Timothy Thompson questioned neighbors and building staff. The property manager reported that Ricardo Burns had visited the building earlier that day and spoke to Lester Garner. According to Garner, Burns was looking for 41-year-old Carl Reed, a resident of the building (not related to Delong Reed), to talk about Van Vo’s car. Burns was later found to be in possession of Van Vo’s car, but claimed that Reed had tried to sell the car to him.

The detectives also questioned Delong Reed. He denied any knowledge of the crime. When the detectives falsely told him that Carl Reed was implicating him in the murder, DeLong said in response that he saw Carl take items from Van Vo’s apartment prior to the discovery of the body. Another neighbor also claimed to have seen Carl take items from Van Vo’s apartment.

On June 20, 2001, Carl was taken into custody. He was kept in an interrogation room for at least 55 hours, handcuffed to a ring on the wall with only an 18-inch-wide metal bench to sit or sleep on. He was interrogated on and off for many hours. At the time, Carl was diabetic and took medication to prevent seizures resulting from a traffic accident and a subsequent head injury from an assault. He was learning disabled—an IQ test conducted years later showed him in the 51-59 range, considered below the 1st percentile of the population. He had dropped out of school in the ninth grade and could neither read nor write. In addition, he abused alcohol and drugs.

Reed repeatedly denied any knowledge of the crime. He denied ever going into Van Vo’s apartment. Reed agreed to allow police to search his apartment. On the consent form, he misspelled his own name as “Reeb.” Police seized a pair of gym shoes and three pairs of shorts. Nothing of evidentiary value was found on them.

Reed would later say that the detectives threatened him with violence and eventually struck him. The detectives fed him details of the crime and falsely told him that his fingerprints were found in the apartment. At one point, Delong Reed was brought in to confront Reed about allegedly implicating Delong and taking items from Van Vo’s apartment.

Reed insisted that Delong was lying. Reed denied having anything to do with Burns acquiring Van Vo’s vehicle.

Reed was not given his insulin for his diabetes. At the same time, the detectives fed him doughnuts, potato chips, cranberry juice and diet Coca-Cola. Ultimately, Reed signed a statement that was written out by an assistant Cook County State’s attorney. He could not read it. Reed would later say he thought he was signing his release papers, not a confession.

The statement said Reed had learned that Van Vo paid young men for sex and decided to use that information to rob Van Vo.

The statement further said that when Reed confronted Van Vo, Van Vo offered Reed $400 for sex. When Van Vo refused to show Reed the money, Reed accused him of “playing games.” At that, according to the statement, Van Vo grabbed Reed’s shirt. Reed pushed him away, causing Van Vo to fall. But Van Vo held fast to Reed’s shirt, and Reed fell on top of Van Vo. Reed then saw the knife with no handle on the floor, picked it up, and stabbed Van Vo three times. Van Vo then let go of Reed’s shirt. Reed then stabbed him again multiple times before leaving the apartment.

The confession was contradicted by the physical evidence. Reed had no injuries to either of his hands, which was unlikely considering the number of stab wounds and that the knife did not have a handle.

Reed was then charged with first-degree murder. Upon his arrival at the Cook County Jail, he was immediately taken to the hospital for dangerously high blood sugar as well as mental health treatment. He told medical personnel he did not know why he was in custody. He was admitted after reporting suicidal ideation, a history of suicide attempts, and auditory hallucinations.

The Illinois State Police crime laboratory conducted DNA testing on five head hairs and excluded Carl Reed. Five other head hairs recovered were also tested and excluded Reed. All 10 were consistent with Van Vo. A hair root was also tested and excluded Reed. No conclusion as to Van Vo was reached on the hair root.

The gym shoes and shorts taken from Reed’s apartment were negative for the presence of blood. The knife blade was examined for fingerprints, but no prints could be found that were suitable for comparison. The lab determined there was blood on the knife blade, but did not pursue DNA testing. Laboratory records would later reveal a note saying: “Looks like this guy confessed. Do we really need to process the knife?” The response note said, “Not at this time.”

In October 2001, the prosecution filed a notice to seek the death penalty. Nearly four years later, Reed’s defense lawyers moved to suppress his statement, arguing that he had not been read his Miranda warnings and that he had been subjected to improper interrogation techniques.

The hearing stretched over various dates. Zuley and other officers denied that they physically or psychologically abused Reed and testified that he was read and understood his Miranda warnings several times.

The prosecutor who wrote out Reed's statement, Nancy Gallasini, testified that when she finished writing out the statement, she moved so that she and Reed were sitting side by side. "I asked him to read the first paragraph, not the Miranda, but my handwritten first paragraph out loud to me, so that I knew he could, one, read my handwriting, and two, read. He did that." Reed’s sister testified to his illiteracy all through their childhood as well as how he suffered a severe head injury when he was attacked by several men wielding metal tools. No evidence was presented about his IQ or whether the brain trauma affected his ability to understand whether he was given his Miranda warnings.

Ultimately, Cook County Circuit Court Judge Marjorie Laws denied the motion to suppress. Judge Laws noted that she had not heard any evidence about Reed's IQ or how the brain injury, which occurred after he dropped out of school, had affected his abilities. The judge noted that he was living by himself away from the family. "But I don't have enough information concerning the defendant's ability to understand or not understand Miranda....I don't have enough information to rebut the state's witnesses."

On December 5, 2005, having spent more than four years in jail and facing the possibility of a death sentence if he were to go to trial, Reed pled guilty to first-degree murder. He was sentenced to 27 years in prison.

In 2012, Reed submitted an application to the Illinois Innocence Project. A fellow inmate who knew Reed's case helped him prepare and write his application. In 2016, under a federal Bloodsworth DNA grant to work on guilty plea cases, the Illinois Innocence Project (IIP) officially opened his case. At the time, his team consisted of Lauren Kaeseberg, John Hanlon and then-IIP-staff attorney Lauren Myerscough-Mueller, who had been hired under the Bloodsworth grant.

In 2017, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office agreed to DNA testing and a motion for the testing was granted. Modern DNA testing was done by Bode Cellmark on the hairs, on the two swabs of blood from Van Vo's closet, two swabs of blood from a fish tank, a white towel that was on Van Vo's face, and the knife. The profiles Bode was able to obtain excluded Reed. Most were of Van Vo. On one side of the knife, Bode found a mixture of DNA from two individuals; one of them was Van Vo, and the other could not be determined. The DNA profile from the closet swabs was consistent with Van Vo. The fish tank blood swabs turned up a mixture of two individuals—one was Van Vo and the other could not be determined. On the stained and unstained areas of the towel, Bode reported mixtures from two people. One was Van Vo. Bode drew no conclusion on the minor profile.

The raw data was then analyzed by Cybergenetics using advanced computer software. This confirmed that Reed was excluded and that Van Vo was included. In addition, an unknown profile was discovered on one side of the knife that did not include Van Vo or Reed.

In 2019, the Bode data and the state police data from pre-trial testing were sent to Dr. Karl Reich at Independent Forensics. He concluded that both Van Vo and Reed were excluded as contributors to one of the hairs in V's hand and a hair root. Reich also excluded Reed as the minor contributor on the knife and the white towel.

Around 2019, the Chicago-based firm Erickson Oppenheimer joined the team. Subsequently, when Myerscough-Mueller left the Illinois Innocence Project to work at the Exoneration Project (EP) at the University of Chicago Law School, the Exoneration Project and EP staff attorney Karl Leonard joined the team.

On April 7, 2020, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker commuted Reed’s sentence to time served and he was released based on a compassionate release request based on COVID-19 and his innocence.

In March 2022, after the Cook County State's Attorney's Office's Conviction Integrity Unit had declined to agree to vacate the conviction in 2020 and again in 2021, the legal team filed a post-conviction petition.

In addition to the DNA testing evidence, the petition cited evidence of Zuley’s involvement in numerous other false confession cases. Over the years, a list of cases tainted by Zuley’s misconduct had grown to include exonerations in murder cases, including that of Latherial Boyd and would come to include that of Lee Harris. Zuley was also part of the team of detectives that obtained the wrongful conviction of David Wright.

The petition noted that Zuley had been criticized after Harris’s conviction for his conduct in the investigation of the murders of seven people at a Brown’s Chicken restaurant in Palatine, Illinois. Zuley was part of a task force assembled to investigate the crime. He said an informant had named the killer (who was never charged—DNA evidence implicated two other men), and when his informant was discredited, Zuley pushed back. He leaked information to the media and lied about having done so, resulting in his dismissal from the task force.

The petition also noted that Zuley, who was in the Naval Reserve, had “masterminded the torture of Mohamedou Ould Slahi at Guantanamo Bay.” The interrogation of Ould Slahi included “sexual assaults, sensory deprivation, threats against family members, beatings and rendition,” the petition said. Ould Slahi had been released in 2016 after 14 years in custody—the purported confession was deemed worthless. Ould Slahi provided an affidavit describing his treatment and said that he finally cracked when Zuley claimed, falsely, that Ould Slahi’s mother had been brought to Guantanamo and implied she likely would be raped.

The petition also quoted the report of Dr. Jessica Pearson, a forensic clinical psychologist who examined Reed. She declared that based on all of Reed’s psychological, mental and physical deficits, he was “vulnerable to psychological coercion and giving an unreliable statement.”

On May 26, 2023, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office agreed to Reed’s conviction being vacated. The charge was then dismissed.

In December 2023, Reed filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city of Chicago, Cook County, and several police officers seeking compensation for his wrongful conviction.

– Maurice Possley

Report an error or add more information about this case.

Posting Date: 6/15/2023
Last Updated: 3/11/2024
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2001
Sentence:27 years
Age at the date of reported crime:41
Contributing Factors:False Confession, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:Yes