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Joseph Janke

Other Cook County, Illinois exonerations
On the afternoon of May 11, 2012, several young men were gathered at 14 East Bellair Street at the home of 22-year-old Adam Miller in Harvey, Illinois, where Miller and some friends were working on some cars. They had just finished changing the oil in 25-year-old Joshua Fisher’s SUV and were trying to fix a leak in the sunroof of 23-year-old James Grveles’s Chevrolet Impala when two males riding bikes and wearing hooded sweatshirts approached.

From a distance of about 165 feet, the two began firing handguns. Fisher tackled William Maxwell and pulled him behind a car as bullets sprayed across the vehicles, shattering glass. One bullet hit Maxwell in the face as Fisher pulled him to the ground. Another bullet grazed the foot of Miller’s father, 64-year-old Cranston Green.

Harvey police collected six .45-caliber shell casings and 12 nine-millimeter shell casings. A few bullet fragments and two bullets were recovered.

At the scene, Miller told police that he suspected 22-year-old Joseph Janke was one of the gunmen. Janke had been in a street gang that had feuded in the past with members of another gang to which Miller had belonged.

On June 20, 2012, Harvey police brought Miller to the police station where he viewed a photographic lineup containing photographs of Janke and 21-year-old Joseph Foster, who lived in a trailer with Janke. Miller identified them as the gunmen. That afternoon, police arrested Foster and Janke and put them in a live lineup. Miller identified them once more.

Green, Fisher, and Maxwell also viewed the photographic lineup and the live lineup. None of them made any identifications. Green said at one point that he thought the gunmen might be Hispanic.

Janke and Foster were arrested and charged with multiple counts of first-degree attempted murder, aggravated battery, and aggravated discharge of a firearm. In November 2014, they went to trial in Cook County Circuit Court. They chose to have their case heard by Judge Frank Zelezinski without a jury.

On November 14, Miller testified and identified them as the gunmen. Although he said he didn’t actually see Foster firing a gun, he said he could tell by the sounds of the gunfire that two guns were being fired. Miller said that the day before the shooting, he went out to the street to get the mail and a car containing Foster and Janke drove up. Words were exchanged, and Janke said he wanted to fight, Miller said. Miller said he had not seen Foster before. He testified that after Janke threatened to come back and do something later, they drove away. Miller said he angrily chased after the car briefly before throwing a phone he was carrying at the car.

Miller also said that a few hours later, he went to see friends in the nearby city of Midlothian, Illinois. He said that while he was on a balcony of an apartment, he saw Janke and Foster walking down the street. Words were again exchanged, but nothing physical occurred.

Miller admitted that he had not told police about either incident until the day he was brought to the station to view the lineups. The defense contended that Miller had falsely accused Foster and Janke because they belonged to a rival gang.

The trial was then delayed. Ultimately, testimony was heard over several dates in November and December 2014. Maxwell, Fisher, and Green testified about the shooting, but none of them were able to identify either Foster or Janke as the gunmen. Grveles was not called to testify.

The prosecution and defense stipulated that a state police firearms examiner would testify that the .45-caliber shell casings were fired by one gun and the nine-millimeter shell casings were fired by another gun.

Foster’s defense attorney, Andrea Bonds, called Teresa Cardenas as a defense witness. Cardenas testified that she and her husband operated a business that did lawn maintenance and also cleaned homes that had been foreclosed upon to prepare them for sale. She testified that on the day of the shooting, Foster, who was her nephew, and Janke worked all day helping to clean a house in the nearby city of Chicago Heights.

On March 3, 2015, Judge Zelezinski acquitted Foster of all charges. Janke was convicted of the attempted murder of Miller, Fisher, Green and Maxwell as well as aggravated discharge of a firearm. The aggravated battery count had been dismissed by the prosecution. Zelezinski acquitted Janke of the attempted murder of Grveles since Grveles had not testified.

At the sentencing hearing, Janke’s attorney, Earl Grinbarg, asked the judge to set aside the verdicts because the prosecution’s case relied upon a sole witness, Miller, who Grinbarg said was a twice-convicted felon and “a bald-faced liar.”

“It is virtually impossible for anybody, any human being with the best eyesight in the world…to say in a matter of seconds [at a distance of more than 150 feet] with hoodies on who that person was,” Grinbarg said.

The motion to set aside the verdicts was denied. Judge Zelezinski said he had confidence in Miller’s identification of Janke. Asked if he had anything to say, Janke declared, “Actually, I’m innocent, sir. [Miller] hopped up there and he basically testified that he hates me. I’m innocent sir.” Janke said the two incidents Miller described on the day before the shooting “never happened.”

Zelezinski then sentenced Janke to 60 years in prison.

In June 2018, the First District Illinois Appellate Court affirmed the convictions, but remanded the case for resentencing. Judge Zelezinski re-sentenced Janke to 55 years in prison.

Subsequently, the Center on Wrongful Convictions (CWC) at the Northwestern University’s Pritzker School of Law began re-investigating the case. In August 2019, CWC attorney Karen Daniel filed a petition for post-conviction relief.

The petition revealed that in February 2018, Grveles had given a statement that at the time of the crime, he told a police officer that the two shooters were Black. Janke and Foster were white. The statement was recorded by the police, Grveles said. Grveles also said that a detective told him that he was experiencing “tunnel vision” and “might have seen something and thought it was something else.”

Grveles said he was not asked to view any lineups and had not been contacted by the prosecution to testify at Janke’s trial. Grveles said he had met Janke a few times prior to the shooting, and he did not believe Janke was one of the gunmen. The petition noted that Grveles’s statement to police had never been disclosed to the defense.

The petition also said that Cody Fortney, who was a friend of Miller, gave a statement saying that in 2013 or 2014, he bumped into Miller at a gas station. Fortney said he asked Miller about the shooting and Miller said he had not known for sure who shot at him, but decided to blame Janke. Fortney was no friend of Janke’s—they had been involved in a fight while both were in prison. But after learning that Janke was in prison for shooting at Miller, Fortney came forward, the petition said.

The petition also reported that Dr. Brian Cutler, an expert in forensic psychology and eyewitness identification had reviewed the case and identified numerous factors that likely negatively affected Miller’s ability to accurately identify the gunman. These included: distance, exposure duration, level of stress, weapon focus, multiple perpetrators, and disguising features.

On April 15, 2022, following an evidentiary hearing during which Grveles and Cutler testified (Fortney had died, so his affidavit was presented), Cook County Circuit Court Judge Carl Boyd granted the petition, vacated Janke’s convictions, and ordered a new trial. By that time, Janke was represented by CWC attorney Gregory Swygert and attorney Joshua Tepfer from the Exoneration Project at the University of Chicago Law School.

The judge credited Grveles’s testimony, noting that he was a friend of Miller, but that his testimony stood in “stark contrast” to Miller’s testimony.

On May 30, 2022, Janke was released on bond pending a retrial. In June 2023, Janke went to trial a second time. He elected to be tried without a jury before Judge Boyd.

Miller again testified and identified him as one of the gunmen. Miller denied that he had told Fortney that he identified Janke even though he didn’t know who the gunmen were.

Swygert and Tepfer were joined by Exoneration Project attorney Fadya Salem. They called Grveles, who testified that the gunmen were Black. Cutler also testified about the various factors that called into question Miller’s ability to accurately identify the gunmen. In addition, the defense called Dr. Christopher Troyka, an optometrist, who testified that Miller’s vision, which was listed as 20-40 on his driver’s license, was too limited to accurately identify facial features from a distance of 165 feet.

On June 26, 2023, Judge Boyd acquitted Janke of all charges.

In December 2023, Janke filed a federal civil-rights lawsuit against the City of Harvey and several of its police officers, seeking compensation for his wrongful conviction.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 7/18/2023
Last Updated: 4/4/2024
Most Serious Crime:Attempted Murder
Additional Convictions:Illegal Use of a Weapon
Reported Crime Date:2012
Sentence:60 years
Age at the date of reported crime:22
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No