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Edgardo Colon

Other Cook County, Illinois exonerations
On December 29, 2011, four days after Clifton Lewis’s girlfriend accepted his marriage proposal in front of the family Christmas tree, the 41-year-old Chicago police officer was fatally shot while working off-duty in a convenience store, M&M Quick Mart at 1201 North Austin Boulevard on the west side of Chicago, Illinois. Lewis shared off-duty security work there with another officer, Craig Williams.

Video surveillance showed two masked men with guns enter at about 8:30 p.m. One clerk, 70-year-old Henry Sutherland, said that Lewis said, “Police,” and immediately one of the robbers jumped over the counter and began shooting. Lewis was shot multiple times. Sutherland suffered a leg wound from shrapnel. Another clerk, 23-year-old Ashwin Patel, was not injured. The robbers fled with Lewis’s pistol and $670 in cash.

On January 3, 2012, police stopped a car for driving the wrong way down a one-way street. In the rear passenger seat was 34-year-old Edgardo Colon, and an officer claimed Colon tried to conceal a handgun in the vehicle. Colon was arrested for being a felon in possession of a firearm. Police later admitted that they told Colon, on the way to the station, that the only case that they were interested in was the murder of Lewis. Police would later say that on the way to the police station, Colon said he had information about Lewis’s shooting.

Over the next 50 hours, initially while off camera, police said Colon made statements implicating various members of the Spanish Cobras street gang in the crime. He first said that he had been told who was involved, but subsequently placed himself as the getaway driver. He eventually implicated three others—19-year-old Tyrone Clay, 23-year-old Alexander Villa and 34-year-old Melvin DeYoung—in the crime. He was first questioned by detectives Albert Perez and John Hillman beginning at about 8:15 p.m. on the night of January 3. Perez later said he read Colon Miranda warnings, but the interview was not recorded because Colon was considered a witness. Police said that Colon told them that Clay, whom Colon knew as “Breed,” had told Colon that Clay and DeYoung, who was known as “Tarzan,” had gone into the store with a gun that had been supplied by Villa, who was known as “Flip.”

Based on the nicknames, police determined that Colon, Clay, Villa and DeYoung were members of the Spanish Cobras street gang.

On the morning of January 4, 2012, Colon voluntarily took a polygraph examination. Police told him that the results showed “deception.” He subsequently changed his account, saying he learned of the robbery and shooting from Villa while at Villa’s house. Colon also now said that Villa and Clay had gone into the store while DeYoung stayed outside in the car. Colon said he had lied because he feared retaliation from Villa, who was a high-ranking gang member.

On the morning of January 5, 2012, police arrested Villa, Clay, and DeYoung. Perez had left the station around 6 or 7 a.m. that morning. When he returned at about 3:30 p.m., he learned that Colon had been taken to court for a bond hearing on the gun possession charge, then had been returned and put into a lineup room. Perez next spoke to Colon at about 9:40 p.m. that night because Colon asked to speak to him.

Perez said he gave Colon a cigarette and Colon began to weep, saying he thought he was going to jail for life. Perez said Colon then said, “Man, I didn’t tell you the truth.” At that point, Colon, according to Perez, said he, not DeYoung, drove the getaway car. Perez said he stopped the conversation and took Colon to an interview room where Perez made sure that video and audio recording equipment were functioning.

The electronically recorded interview (ERI) later showed that at 9:54 p.m., Perez read Colon his Miranda warnings. After Colon said he understood, he asked, “Before I start talking, how is this gonna work, if I talk?” Perez explained he would have to talk to a prosecutor. Then Detective Hillman reminded Colon if he could not afford an attorney, one could be appointed for him. Colon said he understood.

At 9:59 p.m., after about 40 seconds of silence, Perez asked Colon to start at the beginning.

Colon said, “Man, I’m starting to say just f--- it, get a lawyer, man cause—”

Perez interrupted, “Okay, listen. I will talk to the state’s attorney, okay?”

Colon replied, “I need a guarantee, man.”

“I cannot give you a guarantee,” Perez said.

Beginning at 10:03 p.m., Colon began recounting that he knew Villa and Clay both had guns and were planning a robbery. He said he dropped them off by a fire hydrant, made a U-turn, and parked. He said he was parked with his back to the store. “When I heard the shots, all I heard was the shots, and, like, literally a minute later, the doors open…they jumped in the car, I drove off.”

The detectives left the room at 10:41 p.m. and returned at 10:57 p.m. to ask about some details. Colon said, “I’m implicating myself because I wanna get out of here.” He said he was a compulsive liar and that his account was false. “I’m thinking that’s the fastest way to get out of here, so I’m telling you…what you wanna hear so I can get the f--- out of here.”

Colon then denied he was the driver and said he learned everything from Villa. Perez replied, “You’re lying now, okay? I don’t think you were lying before. That was probably the most honest I’ve heard you yet.”

The detectives left the room and returned over the next hour. At 11:45 p.m., Perez told Colon to “calm down.” Offered food, drink and a cigarette, Colon accepted the cigarette. At 11:46 p.m., after Perez left to find a lighter, Colon asked, “is there any way that we can get, like, a public defender to come in—”

“Hold on, Hold on,” Hillman declared.

“And then—” Colon continued.

“Hold up,” Hillman said. “Listen. Cool it. I want you to relax. Let’s have this smoke. Just kick back, relax for a few minutes, all right? Maybe, you got—you sure you don’t want something to eat? It’s been a while, right? What do you want?”

At 11:47 p.m., Perez came back and Hillman said he would go get Colon a hamburger. Perez lit Colon’s cigarette and asked Colon if he was “cool.”

‘I’m cool, man,” Colon replied. ‘I’m just scared, man.”

“I know you’re scared,” Perez said.

“This shit–“ Colon began.

“Okay, but listen,” Perez said.

“This is what I thought about,” Colon said.

Perez said, “Would you just tell me this much, okay, so we can continue. All right, cause I don’t want to stop, okay. I want to help you out, okay? Are you going to help me out?”

Colon nodded.

“Okay?” Perez said. “Tell me about what you said, just…that, okay, you were driving that…car, okay, [while the] boys did the deed, correct, yes or no?”

“Correct,” Colon said.

Colon again said he feared going to prison for the rest of his life. “Don’t think like that,” Perez said. Both detectives left the room to get Colon his food.

At 11:52 p.m., Colon knocked on the door and asked to speak to his girlfriend. When Perez offered to go to her home and get her, Colon changed his mind.

“Man…I can’t go to jail,” Colon repeated. He said he would be killed because he was informing on fellow gang members.

“Bro,” Perez said, “You’re at this point now where you’re gonna have to let us worry about that, okay? You’re gonna have to trust us, alright, with that bullshit. I told you this a hundred times, okay? ‘Cause you did not do the shooting, okay? You did not kill that police officer, okay? And don’t you think it would help us to get somebody like you to [obscenity] tell the truth, okay?”

At 12:29 a.m., Perez left to see if the food had arrived. Colon told Hillman he “felt just horrible” that he had anything to do with Lewis getting killed. He said he would never think of killing someone unless they did something to his daughters. “Besides that, I wouldn’t hurt nobody,” Colon. He said he wanted the money to support his family.

Perez came into the room with the food at 12:30 a.m. At 12:42 a.m., both detectives were out of the room when Colon knocked on the door. He said he was feeling nauseous and was taken to the bathroom.

At 12:42 a.m., Perez brought Colon back to the room and Colon said, “I’m gonna try in a minute. I’m gonna let it calm—got a smoke, please?”

Perez gave Colon a cigarette and said, “Listen, I want you to relax, okay? I’m gonna give you a minute to [obscenity] chill out, eat your food, all right? And then we’ll [obscenity] talk some more, but you know what, man, you’re doing…great.”

Colon replied, “Man, Al, just all I ask is to speak to him and see if—”

Perez snapped, “You [obscenity] listen to me. You [obscenity] volunteered, remember that.”

Perez lit the cigarette for Colon and Colon was left alone in the room until 1:08 a.m. Perez then returned and said, “I don’t want you to think that, um, that I’m [obscenity] with you or anything, okay? You know, we’ve been straight with each other, okay? You know your rights, yes or no?” Perez then read the Miranda warnings, ending with, “And you understand that at any time during questioning you can ask for a lawyer, correct? And have him present, correct?”

Colon, who was nodding his head, said, “Yeah, that’s what I kind of—”

Perez interjected, “And…I’ve been [obscenity] truthful with you, correct? Right? And we’ve talked and you’ve been straight with me, right?”

Colon continued nodding.

Colon then said, “I didn’t do anything but drive a car.” He also agreed that he would give a statement to a prosecutor.

“I didn’t put words in your [obscenity] mouth, did I?” Perez declared.

“No,” Colon said.

“Did I make you [obscenity] say anything?” Perez asked.

“No,” Colon said.

“I read you your rights twice already, because I want to make sure that you understand them, right?” Perez said. “You understand your rights?”

“Yes, sir,” Colon said.

“A hundred percent?” Perez asked.

“A hundred percent,” Colon said.

At 3:28 a.m., assistant Cook County state’s attorney John Brassil read Colon his Miranda warnings and Colon gave a statement saying he was the driver for Clay and Villa. He said that they planned to do a “lick,” meaning robbery with the understanding that he would receive $10,000 to $15,000 of the proceeds. Colon described a route that they took to the store, said Villa and Clay had masks and guns, and that he stayed in the car while they went inside. After the gunshots, Clay and Villa returned to the car. Villa shouted, “Dude was a [obscenity] cop!”

Colon said that Villa explained that Lewis had made a sudden move and that Villa had shot him.

Colon was charged with first-degree murder, armed robbery, and aggravated battery. Clay, who police said had confessed to being involved with Villa and Colon, was similarly charged. Villa, who did not make an inculpatory statement, was released.

DeYoung also was interviewed by police and gave a statement implicating Clay, Villa, and Colon. A diabetic, DeYoung was interrogated twice. Both times, he had to be taken to the hospital for insulin multiple times. During his first interrogation, which lasted over more than two days, DeYoung maintained he was innocent and knew nothing. On one trip to the hospital, detectives claimed that DeYoung confessed his involvement. When he returned to the interrogation room, DeYoung looked at the camera and said, “It’s all a lie.”

The prosecution put DeYoung before a grand jury and he testified that he was in a car with Colon, Villa, and Clay when they discussed robbing the store. He told the grand jury that he was at home at 8:10 p.m. on the night of the shooting when Colon pulled up, driving Villa’s Dodge Intrepid. DeYoung said he got in the car and that Villa said, “We got to hit a lick.” He said Colon pulled into an alley behind the store, and that he and Colon stayed there while Clay and Villa got out with masks and guns and went inside. According to DeYoung, after the shooting, Villa criticized Clay: “I did all the work. I did everything. You didn’t do shit.”

When Colon asked what happened, Villa said, “We got a little something.” DeYoung said he was dropped off at home. During his grand jury testimony, DeYoung was shown surveillance video from the store, and he identified Villa and Clay as the robbers.

In 2013, Villa was charged with first-degree murder, armed robbery and aggravated battery after the prosecution said that witnesses had come forward to report that Villa had admitted his involvement in the crime.

Prior to Colon’s trial, his defense lawyer filed a motion to suppress his statements. On December 11, 2015, Cook County Circuit Court Judge Erica Reddick ruled that at 9:59 p.m., when Colon said, “I’m starting to say just f--- it, get me a lawyer, man” he was not affirmatively and unequivocally requesting a lawyer. The judge did rule that at 11:46 p.m., he had made an affirmative request for a lawyer. She barred the prosecution from using any of his statements after that point in the interrogation.

The prosecution moved to reconsider, arguing that twice after that point, Colon had reinitiated conversations with the detectives. Colon, the prosecution contended, “had initiated communications that reflected a general desire to discuss the investigation twice. He had been properly advised of his Miranda rights and he had waived those rights.”

In February 2016, Judge Reddick reversed herself. She agreed that Colon had reinitiated the conversation and ruled that because of a repeat of his Miranda warnings, his later statements were admissible.

As a result, Colon’s statement to the prosecutor became the cornerstone of the prosecution’s case when Colon went to trial in July 2017 in Cook County Circuit Court. Sutherland, who had been wounded in the leg, and Ashwin Patel testified that they were working at the store when two masked men with guns entered. When Lewis said, “Police,” one the robbers jumped over the counter and shot Lewis. They said the robbers took money from the register and Lewis’s gun. They said they did not see the robbers’ faces and where the men fled or how they got away.

Perez, Hillman, and prosecutor Brassil testified about their interactions with Colon. Colon’s statement was presented to the jury, along with portions of the interrogation that had been ruled admissible.

DeYoung testified and recanted all his prior statements. He said he had lied to the grand jury, and that when he had been left alone in the interrogation room, he turned to the camera and said, “It was a lie.” DeYoung said that he was at his mother-in-law’s home with his family at the time of the heist and spent the night with his girlfriend in a hotel from 9:30 p.m. until the following morning. He said he lied to give the detectives what they wanted to hear because he wanted to be released so he could get his insulin.

The prosecution impeached DeYoung with his grand jury testimony. The prosecution also presented surveillance video footage. A detective testified that one of the cameras showed a Dodge Intrepid going north in the alley just before the shooting and another camera showed two masked men enter the store and shoot Lewis.

A medical examiner testified that Lewis died of gunshot wounds. An Illinois state police firearm and toolmark examiner testified that based on his examination of three bullets from Lewis’s body as well as a fourth found in Lewis’s clothing, Lewis was hit by bullets from two guns. The analyst said he examined seven shell casings found at the store and that three shell casings were fired by one gun and four were fired by another gun. By that time, Lewis’s gun had been recovered. The analyst said that a shell casing in the store was fired by Lewis’s gun. A bullet in the ceiling could not be linked to any of the guns, but the analyst indicated that it was probably from Lewis's gun.

Villa’s Dodge Intrepid had been seized. A state police analyst said that a T-shirt in the Dodge was examined for gunshot residue, but nothing was found. Swabs for DNA testing were taken from the inside of the car, but nothing of value had been found. The analyst said a search for fingerprints in the store was not successful. The doors to the store had been removed because one of the gunmen had rammed into it while leaving. Nothing of forensic value was recovered from the door.

The defense did not present any evidence. On July 13, 2017, Colon was convicted of first-degree murder, armed robbery, and aggravated battery. In October 2017, he was sentenced to 84 years in prison.

Clay had given a statement that evolved from having an alibi—he was on his PlayStation3 at the time of the crime–to just happening to be in the store when the shooting occurred, and then to being part of a planned robbery that went haywire when Villa shot Lewis. Like Colon, Clay challenged his statement as being improperly obtained. During a hearing on the defense motion, Dr. Bruce Frumkin, a clinical psychologist, testified that Clay did not have the intellectual capacity to understand and waive his Miranda warnings. Dr. Frumkin said Clay had scored a 66 on the verbal comprehension index of the IQ test. He explained that meant that “99 percent of the population is brighter” than Clay.

Police had begun questioning Clay at 7 a.m. on January 5. Although he said he understood the Miranda warnings, at 1:59 p.m., he said, “I’m gone from I don’t even want to talk no more.” Two minutes later, Clay had said, “I don’t need to talk no more ‘cause it ain’t doing nothing…’cause I know I didn’t do it….I ain’t rob nothing. I’m innocent until proven guilty.”

He repeatedly said he didn’t want to talk any more. At one point, he said, “Call my momma, tell her get me a lawyer…’cause I ain’t doing nothing.”

The interrogation continued until the early morning hours of July 7—nearly 48 hours after it had begun—when Clay finally gave a statement saying he and Villa went in to rob the store where Villa shot the security guard, and they ran out and got into the car driven by Colon.

On February 4, 2019, Judge Reddick ordered Clay’s statement suppressed and barred the prosecution from using it. Judge Reddick ruled that Clay had not made a knowing and intelligent waiver of his Miranda warnings.

The prosecution appealed that ruling.

In February 2019, while that appeal as well as the appeal of Colon’s conviction were both pending, Villa went to trial before Cook County Circuit Court Judge James Linn. In 2016, the Chicago police department had issued a report that stated that in 2012, the FBI had conducted exigent cell tower analysis based on the cell phones of Colon, Clay, DeYoung, and Villa. Around the same time, the prosecution turned over cell tower maps prepared by the FBI in 2016. None of the defense attorneys in any of the cases asked for the actual underlying 2012 analysis and the prosecution did not disclose it.

The prosecution’s case against Villa was based primarily on statements by witnesses who police said had come forward more than a year after the shooting to say that Villa had admitted to them his involvement in the crime.

In addition, the prosecution contended—and the defense disputed—that the store surveillance video showed the tattoo on Villa’s neck of Jesus Christ with a crown of thorns. A video analysis expert also testified for the prosecution that the outside surveillance video showed a car that was consistent with Villa’s Dodge Intrepid. The defense noted that Villa had tattoos on his hands and no tattoos were visible on the perpetrators’ hands in the videos.

DeYoung again recanted his statements to police and the grand jury, and the prosecution impeached him with his grand jury testimony. The prosecution granted immunity to Colon in an attempt to get him to testify. However, Colon refused to testify and was found in contempt of court. He was sentenced to six years of additional imprisonment.

On February 28, 2019, the jury convicted Villa.

Villa was still awaiting sentencing on September 30, 2020, when the First District Illinois Appellate Court issued its rulings in the Colon and Clay cases. The Court upheld Judge Reddick’s suppression of Clay’s confession. The court reversed Judge Reddick’s ruling in Colon’s case, suppressed Colon’s entire statement, and remanded the case for a new trial.

The Court ruled that Colon had invoked his right to an attorney at 9:59 p.m. shortly after he was given his first Miranda. warnings. The court also held that Colon did not reinitiate the questioning, because in fact, the questioning “never stopped…And Mr. Colon never said anything that suggested he had changed his mind about wanting a lawyer.”

Colon was released on bond on March 31, 2022, while awaiting a retrial.

In September 2022, attorney Jennifer Blagg, then representing Villa (who still had not been sentenced), filed a 140-page motion for a new trial. The motion said that the prosecution had failed to disclose a 2012 FBI cell tower analysis based on cell phone data to map the locations of cell phones of Villa, Colon, Clay and DeYoung, as well as other cell phones. The report showed that none of the three defendants or DeYoung were near the convenience store at the time of the shooting, nor were they together at all that day. The motion also said that the FBI had been mapping the location of the cell phone of another man who was an undisclosed suspect in a December 9, 2011 attempted robbery of M&M Mart. Blagg had obtained the information by subpoenaing the FBI.

Blagg further asserted that the prosecution also had not disclosed a cell phone extraction report on Villa’s girlfriend’s cellphone, which could have supported his claim that he was texting with her at the time of the shooting. At Villa’s trial, the defense presented evidence that Villa was texting with her at the time of the shooting. The prosecution had argued at trial that Villa could have texted her something quickly, like an emoji, moments before going into the store.

The motion also said the prosecution had failed to disclose police reports about the two men who were suspected of attempting to rob the same store two weeks earlier before Lewis was killed. In that attempted robbery, on December 9, 2011, a different off-duty police officer had wounded one of the two robbers, both of whom had escaped. Both were believed to be members of the Four Corner Hustlers street gang—the gang that controlled the geographic territory where M&M was located. Blagg discovered that the prosecution had not disclosed that informants had told police that the shooting of Lewis was a case of retaliation by Four Corner Hustlers against the wrong off-duty officer. Lewis was filling in for the officer who had been working store security on December 9.

One of the tips said that two days after Lewis was killed, an informant overheard members of the Four Corner Hustlers discussing the shooting of Lewis. One had said, “Oh, man, they got the wrong officer…a new one working there. They was trying to get the officer that shot (unintelligible) in the neck three weeks ago. They shot the wrong officer.”

In addition, the prosecution had not disclosed reports of police interviews with numerous members of the Spanish Cobras street gang—including one Cobra who said he was choked by a detective during an interview at the state penitentiary in Danville, Illinois. According to the motion, Blagg had discovered emails showing that within weeks of Lewis’s murder, police had detained and questioned more than 100 people in connection with the crime. The Chicago police department had teamed up with the FBI in a joint investigation of the Cobras called “Operation Snake Doctor.” As part of that investigation, law enforcement officials told Cobra gang members that Villa was responsible for the focus on the gang. Blagg unearthed emails that showed that a high-ranking Chicago police official credited the investigation and its methods to spawn an attack on Villa in 2013 in which he was stabbed, though not fatally.

The motion detailed an email that said that law enforcement should “tell each Cobra that, every time a Cobra goes to jail, that it’s Flip’s [Villa’s] fault. Unless I got the facts wrong,” the officer wrote, “Flip was targeted by other Cobras. His associate was left unscathed. It sounds like…the Cobras are getting the word.” Blagg said the email showed that the police were “no different than a Chicago street gang.” Colon’s attorney, Paul Vickrey, said the email had “criminal implications for every member of Operation Snake Doctor that purposely sought to have Villa harmed.” The motion said that police interrogated DeYoung over several days “until he broke down and confessed…involvement off camera in an ambulance after having been taken to the hospital multiple times for insulin treatment.”

The motion also said that Villa refused to admit involvement in the crime despite being physically abused by detectives. “Villa was coughing up blood after being beaten and stomped by detectives,” the motion said.

Meanwhile, Clay’s legal team eventually got a Sony PlayStation 3 belonging to Clay repaired. Clay had said from the very first time he was interrogated that he was logged in and playing NBA 2K12 at the time of the crime. The prosecution had claimed it was broken and that no information could be obtained from it. The defense got the device repaired for $30, and it showed that Clay was playing when he said he was. According to the repair technician, Clay’s voice was clearly audible; he was trash-talking with opponents and announced at one point that he was taking a bathroom break.

In January 2023, after the defense attorneys had made claims of prosecutorial misconduct, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx ordered Nancy Adduci and Andrew Varga removed as the prosecutors on the cases of Colon, Villa, and Clay. Since 2019, Adduci also had been the head of the office’s Conviction Integrity Unit. The defense argued that the prosecutors used personal emails to communicate about the FBI cell phone mapping to hide it from the defense.. In addition, the defense pointed out that the prosecution repeatedly falsely claimed a lack of knowledge about the location of the cell tower data used in the FBI cell tower analysis.

The cell tower maps placed Colon somewhere else at the exact time of the crime, and the phone records showed that none of the defendants were near the scene of the crime, nor were they with each other at any point that day. The records also showed that DeYoung, Clay, and Villa had not communicated with Colon at all, much less on the day of the crime. The three men did not have Colon’s number in their phones and Colon did not have their numbers in his phone.

In May 2023, Clay fired his defense lawyer, who had urged him to accept an offer from the prosecution to plead guilty and testify against Colon and Villa. His new lawyers, Ashley Cohen and Jennifer Bonjean, immediately joined a motion filed by lawyers for Clay and Colon seeking a hearing for dismissal of the charges based on the misconduct of the Chicago police department and the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office.

On June 21, 2023, as the defense attorneys were continuing to press for a hearing requiring Varga and Adduci to testify, the prosecution dismissed the cases against Clay and Colon. Foxx issued a statement saying, "In light of previous rulings suppressing the statements of both defendants and after a thorough and exhaustive review of the remaining evidence against those defendants, independent of the outcome of today's scheduled hearing, the Cook County State's Attorney's Office (CCSAO) does not believe it can meet its burden of proof at trial.”

As of December 2023, Villa’s case remained pending.

In December 2023, Colon and Clay filed federal civil rights lawsuits against numerous Chicago police officers, prosecutors Varga and Adduci, and the city of Chicago.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 7/19/2023
Last Updated: 12/14/2023
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Robbery, Assault
Reported Crime Date:2011
Sentence:84 years
Age at the date of reported crime:34
Contributing Factors:False Confession, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No