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Allen Robinson

Other Cook County, Illinois exonerations with a Co-Defendant Confessions
On the evening of December 3, 2008, 19-year-old Christopher Hanford was fatally shot while standing on the street in the 900 block of North Lawler Avenue, in Chicago, Illinois. When police arrived, there were no witnesses. Shell casings, spent bullets, and bullet fragments were recovered.

In an attempt to find a witness, the officers were granted permission from superiors to conduct a buy-and-bust operation. In such a ploy, an undercover officer purchases narcotics from a street dealer who is then arrested and threatened with prosecution unless information is provided.

The following day, during such an operation, police arrested Oscar Russell, who had prior drug possession convictions. The police kept Russell in an interrogation room for 24 hours, and threatened him with a lengthy prison sentence. The officers prepared a photographic lineup that included the photograph of 21-year-old Allen Robinson, who was believed to be a drug seller whose territory included the location of the shooting.

Russell told the officers that he knew Robinson. And he gave the names of other individuals who Russell said were present at the time of the shooting. Russell did not say that Robinson was present.

That same day, Deandre Guyton was brought in for questioning about the shooting. He was kept in an interrogation room for eight hours. Guyton was shown the photographic lineup and he said he knew Robinson. Guyton also mentioned an argument that Robinson once had with Hanford during which Hanford stopped traffic and Robinson honked his horn at Hanford.

Guyton told the police that he did not know who had shot Hanford.

The following day, December 5, 2008, after Russell and Guyton had been released, police brought in some of the other people named by Russell as being present at the shooting. All of them denied being present, and all of them said they had no information about the shooting.

Three months later, police arrested Russell and put him in a locked interrogation room for 12 hours. After more threats to charge him with a drug crime, Russell said that Robinson was the gunman. Russell was then released.

That same night, Guyton was arrested in another buy-and-bust. He was interrogated throughout the night and threatened with a lengthy prison sentence. Ultimately, Guyton relented and identified Robinson as the gunman.

On March 3, 2009, Robinson was arrested. He denied involvement in the crime. The police also arrested Robinson’s cousin, Lamarius Robinson. During questioning, police said Lamarius implicated Allen as the gunman. Allen was charged with first-degree murder.

In June 2011, Allen went to trial in Cook County Circuit Court. Prior to jury selection, his defense attorney said he intended to call Lamarius to testify for the defense about a letter that Lamarius had sent to Allen. In the letter, Lamarius admitted that he shot Hanford and that Allen was not present at the time of the shooting. The trial judge questioned whether Lamarius had a Fifth Amendment right to refuse to testify if it would incriminate him, but no decision was made.

After the jury was sworn, Russell testified that on the day of the shooting he was in the neighborhood, selling narcotics. At about 9 p.m., he saw Allen and Lamarius Robinson. Lamarius was waving a black handgun, Russell said. At that point, a car drove up and a man inside said, “Dude down the street.”

Russell said he walked with the Robinsons down Iowa Street toward Lawler Avenue, where a number of people, including Hanford, were gathered. Russell said that Allen and Hanford began arguing and then began fist-fighting. During the fight, Lamarius pulled out the gun and told Hanford’s friends to step back. Russell said that Hanford was winning the fight, so Allen grabbed the gun from Lamarius and shot Hanford several times. Russell said he then ran away.

Russell said he identified the Robinsons the following day at the police station and did so again on March 3, 2009. He testified that on March 30, 2009, he told a grand jury that Allen was the gunman.

During cross-examination, Russell said there were at least 17 or 18 people on the corner at the time of the shooting, that he was on the other side of the street, and that the Robinsons were facing away from him.

Guyton testified that on the night of the shooting, he was walking in the neighborhood when Lamarius ran up holding a gun. Guyton said someone else was with Lamarius, but it was not Allen. Guyton said Lamarius put the gun to Guyton’s face and pulled the trigger, but the gun did not fire. Guyton said he tried to grab the gun and then attempted to use the person with Lamarius as a shield. Then, Guyton said, he ran home.

There, he called Hanford, who said he was on his way to Guyton’s home. Guyton said he went outside to wait for Hanford. He said he saw Hanford walking toward the house, but he was shot before he could get there. Despite having previously identified Allen as the gunman, Guyton said he did not know who shot Hanford. He claimed that he saw Allen and Lamarius near the scene.

Guyton said that when police arrested him and showed him a photographic lineup, he refused to sign it. He admitted that three months later, he signed a photographic array identifying Allen. But he testified that he told police that Allen was with whoever shot Hanford, not that Allen shot Hanford.

The prosecution impeached him with his grand jury testimony during which he said he saw no one with a gun other than Allen and that he saw Allen raise the gun and start shooting.

During cross-examination, Guyton again said he did not see who shot Hanford.

Chicago police officer Wayne Frano testified that he was on routine patrol near the shooting when he heard gunshots. He said that as he and his partner drove to the corner of Iowa Street, he saw three Black men run toward a car. He said he recognized one of them as Allen. He said he did not recognize the other two men. He said that one of them slowed down and told Frano a shooting had occurred and he pointed toward Iowa and Lawler.

During cross-examination, Frano admitted that he had never reported to anyone having seen Allen that night until March 4, 2009 – the day after Allen was arrested.

An Illinois State Police forensic investigator testified that he examined shell casings recovered at the scene and concluded that all were fired by the same .45-caliber handgun. He said that he could not say whether bullets which were recovered came from the same gun without a gun to do a control test.

A pathologist testified that Hanford was shot four times and died from the wounds.

Detective Timothy McDermott testified that he interviewed Guyton and Russell the day after the shooting. He said that Russell claimed he sold drugs for Allen and that Russell identified Allen as the gunman. McDermott said that Guyton identified Allen as someone he knew, but refused to say more because he did not want his name associated with a murder investigation.

McDermott said he did not seek to arrest Allen because he had no corroboration of Russell’s account of the crime. Three months later, McDermott said, Guyton was “more forthcoming,” and identified Allen as the gunman.

The prosecution then said they would call Lamarius as a witness, but since he remained a suspect in the case, he had a Fifth Amendment right which he should be advised of before testifying. The judge concluded that since Lamarius could be charged as an accountable participant for supplying the gun, Lamarius should consult with an attorney first.

After a recess, an assistant public defender said that Lamarius would invoke his right not to testify. The prosecution said it had spoken with Lamarius about the letter and that Lamarius denied having written the letter, but said he might have addressed the envelope. Lamarius further said that he was not present at the shooting.

Allen’s defense attorney, Charles Piet, said that Lamarius had told him the same thing. Piet said Lamarius claimed only to have heard about the shooting after it occurred. Piet said Lamarius “hemmed and hawed” about the letter, but ultimately denied writing it.

The letter said, “What um sayn is I did it[.] [Y]ou wasn’t even there[.] I could do the time cuz its [mine] anyway.” The letter also said, “I licked the page at the bottom so [my] DNA could be on here...if you have 2 use this.” There was a circled area at the bottom of the page.

Lamarius was then called to the witness stand outside the presence of the jury. He denied being at the scene of the shooting and denied he told police that he saw the shooting. He then invoked the Fifth Amendment and refused to answer any further questions.

The letter was not entered into evidence by Piet.

The prosecution then rested their case. The defense called no witnesses. On June 23, 2011, the jury convicted Allen of first-degree murder. He was sentenced to 55 years in prison.

The First District Illinois Appellate Court upheld the verdict and sentence in April 2013.

The appeals court rejected the defense argument that the prosecution had intimidated Lamarius to keep him from testifying by threatening to charge him in the crime.

In June 2014, Allen’s post-conviction attorneys, Jodi Garvey and Patrick Blegen, filed a post-conviction petition seeking to overturn the conviction. The petition listed seven witnesses whom Piet had failed to call at the trial.

The witnesses included:

--A woman known as J.M., who said that at about 9:15 p.m. on the night of the shooting, Lamarius called her asking for a ride. She said that when she picked him up, he was nervous and said he had just killed someone. J.M. said she stopped the car at a gas station at Cicero and Madison Avenues and told Lamarius to get out.

--Quinton Davis, who said that Lamarius called him at about that same time and asked for a ride. Davis said he and his girlfriend picked up Lamarius at a gas station at Cicero and Madison Avenues and drove him to Davis’s grandmother’s house. On the way, according to Davis, Lamarius said he just shot someone he referred to as “13.” Davis said Lamarius showed him a chrome and black .45-caliber pistol. Lamarius also said that he first called J.M., but that she refused to take him anywhere. Davis said that when they arrived at his grandmother’s house, he called Allen, who then came over. At that point, Lamarius admitted to Allen that he had shot Hanford. Davis said that the two men almost came to blows. According to Davis, Allen was dealing drugs in the area of the shooting and feared that he would be wrongly blamed for the shooting. Davis said that over the next several months, Lamarius began using drugs heavily to cope with the guilt he experienced from shooting Hanford. Davis also said he received a letter – different from the one referred to at the trial – in which Lamarius said he wanted to make things right.

--Latanya Fleming was Allen’s mother. She said that she worked at a grocery store at Halsted Street and Madison Avenue, which was several miles from the shooting. She said that Allen was at the store at 9 p.m. to pick her up. That night, Fleming said that when Allen came into the store, she told him that she had been asked to work until 10:30 p.m. While he was there, Fleming introduced Allen to her co-worker, Ethel Lewis. Fleming said Allen bought a candy bar and was waiting in the car when she came out at 10:30 p.m.

--Ethel Lewis, who said that while she did not remember the exact date, she remembered the night when Fleming was asked to work until 10:30 p.m., and on that night, she was introduced to Allen when he arrived.

--Russell recanted his trial testimony and admitted that he was not present when Hanford was shot. He said he had no knowledge about the shooting and that the story he told was fed to him by the police.

--Three other witnesses who Russell had initially claimed were present at the shooting said that they were not there. Two of them actually had records showing they were in custody at the time of the shooting.

The petition said that Allen had informed Piet about the witnesses prior to the trial. “There is no legitimate excuse for trial counsel’s failure to speak with or call these witnesses,” the petition asserted.

The petition faulted Piet for failing to attempt to get Lamarius’s letter admitted into evidence. The petition noted that after Lamarius was excused following his assertion of the Fifth Amendment, the trial judge asked Piet if he had any argument about getting the letter into evidence.

“Had [Piet] conducted a modicum of research in the two days since the court’s comments regarding the letter’s admissibility, or prior to that, counsel would have realized that Lamarius’s testimony was not necessary to authenticate the letter,” the petition said. There were several ways that could have and should have been done, the petition said.

The petition was still pending in January 2018 when a supplemental petition was filed. By that time, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU) had reviewed the case and declined to agree to vacate the conviction. The case had been then transferred to the prosecution’s post-conviction litigation unit.

The supplement petition said that the letter and envelope referred to at the trial had been submitted for DNA testing. A cutting from the letter was deemed unsuitable for testing. However, a DNA profile was obtained from the envelope that was determined to be Lamarius’s DNA.

“The DNA analysis confirms that the confession letter was authored by Lamarius Robinson,” the petition declared.

The petition also said that the witnesses who Russell had falsely said were present at the time of the shooting had been interviewed by police at the time. All said that they had told police they were not present at the shooting. The petition said none of those interviews were disclosed to the defense prior to the trial.

In April 2022, Cook County Circuit Court Judge Mary Brosnahan convened an evidentiary hearing relating to the defense claim that Piet had provided an inadequate legal defense by failing to call Allen’s mother and other witnesses. His mother testified about how he was at the store from 9 p.m. – before the shooting occurred – until 10:30 p.m., after the shooting occurred. J.M. testified about how she kicked Lamarius out of her car after he had admitted shooting Hanford when she picked him up minutes after the shooting occurred.

Allen Robinson testified that he had informed Piet of the names of all of the witnesses and what they would have said if called to testify.

On May 2, Judge Brosnahan vacated the conviction and granted Robinson a new trial. The judge noted that Piet had refused to come to court, leaving her “really in the dark as to why the alibi was not presented.” The judge did note that prior to the trial, Piet had indicated that there was “no affirmative defense.”

The judge said Piet had failed Robinson by failing to admit the letter from Lamarius into evidence at the trial. “The summary of the evidence…for failing to introduce evidence that Lamarius Robinson was the alternate suspect, I believe, squarely fits with ineffective assistance of counsel,” Brosnahan said. “There should have been, on such a significant and important issue, a pretrial motion that was litigated.”

On May 9, 2022, the prosecution dismissed the case, and Robinson was released.

On April 26, 2023, Robinson was granted a certificate of innocence, paving the way for him to seek compensation from the state of Illinois. In July 2023, Robinson was awarded $268,960 in state compensation.

In May 2023, Robinson filed a federal civil rights lawsuit seeking compensation. The lawsuit named numerous police officers involved in the case, including McDermott and Frano.

“These defendants built an entirely false case against [Robinson] based on coerced witness testimony,” the lawsuit declared.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 6/14/2023
Last Updated: 12/13/2023
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2008
Sentence:55 years
Age at the date of reported crime:21
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No