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Frank Drew

Other Cook County, Illinois homicide exonerations
At 9 p.m. on December 12, 1996, 15-year-old Ronald Walker was standing outside a convenience store at the corner of Church Street and Dodge Avenue in Evanston, Illinois, when he was fatally shot. Witnesses said two Black men approached and one said what sounded like, “What’s up now, fool?” And then one of the men shot Walker several times. Both men fled on foot.

Police suspected the shooting was gang-related, possibly an instance of retaliation, because the corner was a known drug-selling location for the Gangster Disciples street gang.

Aaron Morales, a Gangster Disciple, lived just down the street from the corner. He told police he had been hanging out in front of his house with Walker and Ryan Higgenbottom, another Gangster Disciple, when two strange men approached. One said, “What’s up, Aaron?”

Morales said he was “spooked.” He and Higgenbottom went into the back yard and hid. Walker, meanwhile, walked to the corner. There he chatted with Eddie Gibson and Peppi Southall. Afterward, Gibson and Southall walked to the store while Walker stayed on the corner.

Nathan Norman, who was 13 years old, rode up on his bicycle to buy snacks. Walker asked to borrow his bike. Martell said he would lend it for money. Walker didn’t rent the bike, but did give Martel $1 to buy snacks. At that time, Gibson and Southall saw two men approach Walker. They heard one ask, “What’s up now, fool?” Martell also heard the question.

A few houses down the street, Challie Parham was leaving the house of her friend, Joyce Brandon, when she saw the two men approach Walker. Parham told police she heard one of them say, “This is for you,” just before one of the men shot Walker.

Parham was interviewed at the scene. She recalled seeing two individuals shoot Walker, both about 19 or 20 years old. She could not identify either one and said she was afraid of being seen talking to police.

Juan Hunt told police he was crossing the street at the corner when he heard a gunshot. He said he turned and saw Walker on the pavement. A man standing over Walker fired another gunshot. Hunt said the gunman was Black, about 5 feet 7 inches to 5 feet 8 inches tall, weighed 200 pounds–a heavy build–and was about 24 or 25 years old.

At about that time, police stopped Kermeto Evans and Joseph Moore as they were driving near the scene of the shooting. Police brought Hunt to their car. There, Hunt identified Evans as the gunman, saying he was “positively sure.” He could not say that Moore was at the scene of the shooting.

Evans and Moore were arrested. As police canvassed the area, Robert Fomond approached. He said he saw a man running from the area after the gunshots. He identified the man as Evans.

Morales told police that one of the two men who spoke to him was a member of the rival gang, Black Disciples, whom he knew as “Tony.” Morales later took a polygraph examination and repeated the information. The examiner said Morales showed no deception.

Higgenbottom said he did not recognize either man. He said one was 5 feet 9 inches to 5 feet 10 inches tall and had a dark complexion and a mustache. He said the other was about an inch taller with a light complexion. He said both were 17 to 19 years old. However, later that night, when interviewed by a prosecutor, Higgenbottom said prior to the shooting, he had seen Moore walking nearby with another man. He said that before he and Morales went into the back yard, he saw Moore and the other man walk in the same direction as Walker.

Gibson said the shooter was 5 feet 6 inches to 5 feet 7 inches tall, had a medium complexion, and his face was covered by a coat or a mask. Gibson said the second man was about the same height, was heavyset, and had a medium complexion.

Southall said the gunman was 5 feet five inches to 5 feet 6 inches tall and weighed about 140 to 150 pounds. He said the second man was 5 feet 7 inches tall with a heavy build.

Norman, whose bike Walter had tried to rent, told police that he was in the store when he heard three gunshots. He said he saw two men run away. He said both were wearing hoods and one was heavyset.

When Moore and Evans got to the police station, police recovered six grams of crack cocaine from Evans. Both denied involvement in the crime. Moore said he was “certain” the gunman was his cousin, Ryan Baldwin. Evans said he believed the shooting was in retaliation because Walker was expected to testify against a friend of Baldwin in an upcoming criminal case. Evans and Moore now said they had been at an Amoco gas station around the time of the shooting where they had unsuccessfully tried to purchase “blunts” and bought a bag of chips and a can of soda instead.

Evans and Moore agreed to take polygraph examinations. Moore was deemed truthful when he denied shooting Walker. Evans was deemed to be “not truthful” or was “otherwise withholding significant information” when he denied shooting Walker.

Evans and Moore were placed in lineups. Higgenbottom identified Moore as one of the people he saw following Walker just before the shooting. Gibson identified Evans and Moore as the two who confronted Walker when he was shot. Southall also viewed the lineups and said he did not see the men who fled from the scene.

Police went to the Amoco station and showed the attendants photos of Evans and Moore. The attendants recalled seeing Evans attempting to buy blunts, but did not recall seeing Moore. A review of the cash register tape showed a purchase of a bag of ships and a soda at 8:59 p.m., one minute after the shooting.

As a result, Moore and Evans were released without being charged.

Five days after the shooting, police interviewed people who had called 911. Aslam Panjawi, the owner of the corner store, recalled hearing two shots and people screaming for him to call 911. He did not see the offenders.

Joyce Brandon, who had been talking with Challie Parham just before the shooting, said she heard the shots and called 911, but did not see the offenders. She said there were rumors that the wrong person may have been shot–that the intended victim was Morales.

Kenneth Key had purchased lottery tickets and was walking to his truck when he walked past two males who were in conversation. He said he heard one say, “Where is he at? He was around there in the alley. He must have come around here this way.” Key said he was getting into his truck when he heard two gunshots, saw Walker fall down, and then a male fired two more shots into his body. Key said he saw three people flee. One was 5 feet 5 inches tall and 150 pounds. Another was 5 feet 7 inches tall and 125 pounds. The third was a “young” Black male.

Eight days after the shooting, police re-interviewed Southall. He said he believed he would be able to identify the offenders if he saw them again.

A month after the shooting, the police spoked to Higgenbottom again. In this interview, Higgenbottom said he realized it wasn’t Moore that he saw that night, but was someone who looked like Moore.

At about that same time, police talked to Juan Hunt again and told him that Evans had an alibi for the time of the shooting. The police asked him to look through mugshot photo books. Hunt picked a photo of someone he said was not the gunman, but looked like the gunman.

When police re-interviewed Challie Parham, she still said she could not identify the men. She did say that the gunman was heavyset or chubby. The other had a slender build, she said.

Police then interviewed Stephan Brandon, whose mother, Joyce Brandon, had called 911. He said he heard the gunshots and looked out his second-floor window. He said one of the two was 17 or 18 with a heavy build. He said the other was about the same age with a thin to medium build. He said that as they ran away, he recognized them as having been hanging around off and on at the corner all day. He said they had been in the company of a “big time drug dealer” known as Ronell “Ro-Ro” Boyd. He said he thought the two men were Boyd’s cousins, and he positively identified a photograph of Gregory Boyd, who was Ronell Boyd’s cousin, as the gunman.

Brandon gave a statement to an assistant Cook County State’s Attorney saying he had seen the gunman before and knew he was a member of the P-Stones street gang, another rival gang of the Gangster Disciples.

Ida Payne told police she was with Brandon and confirmed that she had seen the two men earlier in the day with Ronell Boyd.

About this time, a month after the shooting, police arrested Harold Farris for selling cocaine at the same street corner where the shooting took place. Farris claimed he was near the corner when the shooting occurred. He said the shooter was a heavyset Black man. Farris picked Gregory Boyd out of a photographic lineup as the gunman. Farris gave a written statement to a prosecutor saying that he was at the store at 8:45 p.m. that night. He said that when he came out, he saw Walker across the street. He also said he saw Gregory Boyd on the street. Farris said that as he walked away, he heard two gunshots. He said he turned and saw Boyd fire two more shots at Walker on the ground.

Farris and Stephan Brandon both testified before a Cook County Grand jury, which returned an indictment naming Boyd as the gunman. Fourteen weeks after the shooting, Boyd was arrested. At that time, he was 16 years old, 5 feet 9 inches tall, and weighed 210 pounds.

Boyd gave police an account of his whereabouts that day. He did say he took a different way home because there were police “all over the area” because of the shooting. He said he went home, where he was living with his aunt, and then spent time with various friends until 2 or 3 a.m. when he went home to go to bed. He said he was not near the corner where Walker was shot and would never go there because it was rival gang territory. v The people Boyd claimed to be with that night did not back up his story or couldn’t recall whether they saw him or not. Boyd claimed he had been in school during the day, but records showed had been absent from school for a week prior to the shooting and for several weeks after the shooting.

Confronted with this information, Boyd admitted he had been at the corner to buy blunts at the store and heard gunshots after leaving the store. He said he ran home, stayed there for a few minutes, and then went to see a friend.

Boyd was placed in multiple lineups. He was identified “without hesitation” by Stephan Brandon. Morales also identified Boyd as one of the two men who walked past him and spooked him before the shooting.

Ida Payne tentatively identified Boyd as the person she had seen earlier in the day and the person she saw fleeing from the scene of the shooting. Higgenbottom also tentatively identified Boyd as one of the two males he saw before the shooting. He said he was 80 to 90 percent sure.

Southall said he was 80 to 90 percent sure that Boyd was the gunman. In addition, Eddie Gibson also “tentatively identified” Boyd as the gunman, according to police.

On March 22, 1997, Boyd was interviewed by a prosecutor. He gave an oral statement saying that on the night of the shooting, he was hanging out with fellow P-Stone gang members Antoine Smith and Harold Ward, who were talking about shooting Gangster Disciples. Boyd said he drove Smith and Ward, both of whom were carrying handguns, to near Church and Dodge. They parked and walked to the corner. Boyd said he went into the store to buy blunts, and when he came out, he heard gunshots. He said he saw Smith and Ward running and joined them. When they got back to Boyd’s car, he said he drove them out of the area.

Boyd agreed to provide a written statement, but before he did, his aunt arrived at the police station and told him not to provide any information except for his name, age, and date of birth. Boyd then told the prosecutor that his account was a fabrication because he didn’t like Smith and Ward.

After that recantation, the prosecution declined to pursue the case against Boyd. He was released, and the case was rejected “based on insufficient evidence and lack of further incriminating, supportive evidence against the suspect,” according to a police report.

The investigation went cold until January 1998 when police arrested Maurice Ruff on felony drug and weapons charges. He said he had information about an unsolved murder. After his bond hearing, Ruff called the Evanston police department from the Cook County Jail, and Evanston detectives met him at the jail. Ruff refused to provide any information unless the State Attorney’s Office was consulted. So, on January 30, 1998, Ruff met with a prosecutor and a detective. He claimed that Frank Drew was the gunman.

According to Ruff, Drew, who was 16 at the time of the shooting, committed the crime with Jeffrey Lurry, who was 15 years old at the time of the shooting. Ruff said that he was at home when Drew and Lurry arrived and told him what happened. Ruff said that their original mission had been to shoot Aaron Morales, but after Morales eluded them, they shot Walker because he, like Morales, was a Gangster Disciple.

Ruff claimed they told him they had used a .32-caliber pistol which they broke into parts and dumped in a sewer.

Ruff said that he could persuade Lurry to admit his involvement. Ruff was taken out of the jail to the Evanston police department where he was provided food and allowed visits from his wife and children. He gave a statement saying he was a member of the Vice Lords street gang and that Drew was a fellow gang member who had the power to “call plays.”

According to Ruff, about an hour after the shooting, Drew telephoned him to say: “We just took care of business. Let the brothers know to stay off the street.” Ruff said Drew and Lurry arrived a few minutes later. Drew said, ‘We just shot one of them boys,” meaning the Gangster Disciples. Drew, according to Ruff, said that “he had shot Ronald several times, including at least once in the head.”

The police located Lurry in Florida and met with him there. Lurry denied involvement. The police then arranged for Lurry to speak to Ruff on the phone. After the call, Lurry admitted to the police that he and Drew were hanging out on the day of the shooting when Drew suggested they “go over and mess with the GD’s.” Lurry said they went to Church and Dodge where they saw Walker. Lurry said he asked Walker: “What’s up?” and then Drew shot him.

According to Lurry, he and Drew went to Ruff’s home where Drew reported what they had done. Lurry said that Drew later “took the gun apart.”

Lurry was then arrested for murder.

On February 18, 1998, Drew went to the Evanston police department to be photographed and fingerprinted on an unrelated charge. That afternoon, police came up to him on the street and asked him to return to the station because there had been a problem with the fingerprints. When he got there, police told him he would have to be held overnight because the officers who would take his prints were gone until the following morning.

The next day, officers showed him a copy of Lurry’s statement and began to interrogate him. Over the next 90 minutes, Drew later recounted, he denied involvement and was beaten by officers while handcuffed to a wall. The officers left, then returned and asked if he was ready to cooperate. When Drew said he had nothing to say, an officer slapped him in the face. Another officer punched him in the ribs and back. Drew later said he was struck 25 to 30 times over the next half hour. He then said he would give a statement.

Officers gave him Lurry’s statement and ordered him to read it aloud. As Drew read the statement, an officer wrote down his words on a piece of paper. The detectives later claimed that when they asked him if he was sorry for what he did, Drew “didn’t say anything, but shook his head up and down indicating yes.” The officers said Drew said he had not intended to shoot Walker and asked if he could apologize to Walker’s mother.

Police said Drew told them he got the gun from Rodney Hicks and that after the shooting, Lurry broke the gun into pieces and got rid of it. Drew later gave a similar statement to an assistant state’s attorney while the officers looked on. At the time, Drew was 5 feet 7 inches tall and weighed 130 pounds.

Police interviewed Hicks, who denied he gave a gun to Drew. Hicks did admit he had previously owned a .32-caliber pistol, but he said that it had been stolen. Hicks said he had been present at Ruff’s house when Drew and Lurry came over and admitted to the shooting.

Police interviewed Ruff’s brother, Sean, who also said that he was present when Drew and Lurry came to Maurice’s house and admitted to the shooting.

Police said they searched a sewer near Drew’s home and found three .32-caliber shell casings.

Prior to trial, a judge ruled that the detectives had failed to give Drew his Miranda warnings prior to interrogating him. However, the judge ruled that Drew’s statement was admissible because the prosecutor who took the statement had given him the warnings prior to taking the statement.

In March 1999, Lurry and Drew went to trial in Cook County Circuit Court. They were tried simultaneously before separate juries. Ruff testified and repeated his account. He admitted he had gotten “a pretty wonderful deal” in which he would serve two years in prison instead of up to 45 years.

Detective Carlos Mitchem testified about the three phases of the investigation. Mitchem testified that only Juan Hunt identified either Evans and Moore, which was false–Eddie Gibson, Robert Fomond, and Ryan Higgenbottom had identified Evans and Moore.

Mitchem testified that in the second phase, Gregory Boyd had been placed in five lineups and only Stephan Brandon had identified him. That, too, was false. Police reports showed that Harold Farris, Aaron Morales, Ida Payne, Ryan Higgenbottom, Peppi Southall, and Eddie Gibson had identified Boyd in either live or photo lineups.

Detective Mark Kostecki testified that Drew voluntarily confessed after he was confronted with Lurry’s statement. Kostecki admitted that Drew did not weigh close to 200 pounds, as the gunman had been described by most witnesses. Kostecki denied that Drew was physically abused or ordered to read Lurry’s statement.

Assistant State’s Attorney Steve Goebel read Drew’s statement to the jury. He said that after the statement was written, Drew said he “didn’t know if he wanted to” sign it. Goebel said Drew was taken to another room and after about 20 minutes or 40 minutes–he wasn’t sure–Drew was brought back by the police, and he signed the statement.

Higgenbottom, Southall, and Kenneth Keys testified about what they saw, but none of them identified Drew. A gun store employee testified that he sold a .32-caliber revolver to Rodney Hicks in 1996. An Evanston water department employee testified about removing debris from the sewer which resulted in the discovery of the shell casings.

Peter Striupitis, an Illinois State Police firearms examiner, testified that he had examined two .32-caliber bullets removed from Walker’s body and concluded that both were fired from the same gun. He examined the shell casings and said they were not suitable for comparison to the bullets.

The autopsy result–that Walker died of multiple gunshot wounds–was entered into evidence by stipulation. An Ameritech Telecommunications employee testified that records showed that a two-minute call was made from Drew’s home to Ruff’s home at 9:22 p.m., about 25 minutes after the shooting.

Charles Kinnerk, a paramedic who worked at the jail, testified that he had conducted the intake evaluation of Drew when Drew was brought there after he was charged with murder. Kinnerk’s report documented that he saw no bruises or injuries, that Drew said his health was good, and that he did not complain about being beaten.

The defense called Dr. Ross Romine, a physician at the jail medical facility. He said the intake procedure at the jail was a “hurry up, rush up operation and many patients don’t get a thorough exam.”

Dr. Romine testified that he examined Drew on February 24 after Drew requested a “sick call.” Drew explained at that time that he had been struck several times in the chest by police and that he was in pain. Dr. Romine identified at least four marks or bruises on Drew’s body that were “consistent with the patient’s history of being struck.” Dr. Romine said the injuries were “at least a couple of days old, maybe a week or a little more than that.”

Gregory Boyd testified that his admission to committing the Walker murder was false. He admitted that at the time of the shooting he was about 5 feet 9 inches tall and weighed 210 to 220 pounds.

Juan Hunt testified that he saw the shooting, that the gunman was 5 feet 7 inches to 5 feet 8 inches tall and weighed 180 to 200 pounds.

Drew testified and denied involvement in the shooting. He said he was 5 feet 9 inches tall, weighed 140 pounds, and never weighed as much as 180 pounds, let alone 200 pounds. He said he had been a member of the Vice Lords, but had left the gang in April 1997 when his family moved to Mississippi. He said that Maurice Ruff called him repeatedly and said he was “bogus” for quitting the gang. Drew said Ruff threatened to send gang members to get him if he didn’t return.

Drew related how the police ordered him to read Lurry’s statement and beat him when he refused to admit involvement. He said the police rehearsed with him what to say to the prosecutor. Drew said that before he signed the statement, he was finally allowed to call his mother. After talking to her, he told the prosecutor he did not want to sign it.

Drew said the police took him to an interrogation room where Detective James Hutton grabbed him by the throat and said, “Boy, if you thought that it was bad last time, then your best choice is to go sign this statement.” As a result, Drew said he signed the statement.

He said he did not say anything about his injuries when going through intake because when he got to the jail and reported he had been beaten, a guard told him to wait and tell the officer on his jail tier. When he reported to his tier officer, Drew was taken to the medical unit where he was seen by Dr. Romine.

The remainder of the defense’s case was presented by written stipulations. These were partial and incomplete. The stipulation of the testimony of Eddie Gibson omitted that he had identified Evans and Moore as the offenders and that he had identified Boyd as someone he saw fleeing the scene. The stipulation of the testimony of Stephan Brandon did not include that he had given a statement that the gunman was a member of the P-Stones street gang.

The stipulation of the testimony of Robert Fomond did not include that he had given a statement that he saw the shooting and that he recognized the gunman was Boyd. It also did not include that he had seen Boyd in the area of Church and Dodge earlier in the day and thought it was odd because it was Gangster Discipline territory.

Regina Clayton, Drew’s mother, testified that she visited with Drew at the Evanston police department on the day he was interrogated. She said that Drew was "holding his abdomen area" and said he had been beaten by the police.

In rebuttal, Detective Hutton denied threatening Drew or mistreating him in any way. Hutton denied seeing anyone else physically abuse Drew. Detective Jeff Jamraz testified that Drew was not physically abused.

On Friday, March 12, 1999, Lurry’s jury convicted him of first-degree murder. On Monday, March 15, 1999, Drew’s jury convicted him of first-degree murder. Lurry was sentenced to 25 years in prison. Drew was sentenced to 60 years in prison.

Their convictions were upheld on appeal by the First District Illinois Appellate Court, although one justice dissented, noting that Drew had independent corroboration that he was physically beaten into confessing from the testimony of Dr. Romine, who had observed serious bruising on Drew’s chest days after he arrived in the jail. In light of the physical corroboration of Drew’s allegations—further corroborated by statements to his girlfriend’s mother shortly after his confession—the justice said that the prosecution had failed to meet its burden by clear and convincing evidence. The justice would have vacated the conviction and suppressed the confession.

In April 2002, Drew, acting as his own lawyer, filed a post-conviction petition seeking to vacate his conviction. Lurry had recanted his statement implicating himself and Drew, saying that he only made the statement because Ruff ordered him to do so. He said his statement was false and that neither he nor Drew was involved in the shooting.

In July 2002, an assistant public defender was appointed.

But the petition essentially sat dormant for the next 15 years.

In 2017, the Exoneration Project at the University of Chicago Law School began representing Drew. DNA testing on a jacket recovered from Boyd’s home on a stain that appeared to be blood was negative for the presence of blood.

In October 2019, Drew’s attorneys, Joshua Tepfer and Karl Leonard, filed an amended post-conviction petition. The petition noted that Ruff had admitted that his statement was a lie and that he coerced Lurry to falsely implicate Drew.

Ruff said that he believed that Drew was responsible for setting him up for the drug arrest in 1998. “I told the police that Frank told me he had killed Walker because I wanted to help myself,” Ruff said in an affidavit. “At the time, I was mad because I thought Frank was trying to do me in. Frank has never said to me that he killed Ronald Walker.”

The petition also noted that Aaron Morales had come forward and said that if called as a witness at Drew’s trial, he would have testified that when he and Higgenbottom were standing on his porch before the shooting, two men walked by, one of whom was Boyd. Moreover, Morales said he knew Drew at the time, and Drew was not one of the two men who came by.

The petition also said that if the defense had called Drew’s girlfriend at the time of the shooting, Kellye Clay, she would have testified that she visited Drew at the police station and that Drew told her that “he had been beaten by two officers.” In addition, the petition said that had Farris been called to testify, he would have said, “Frank Drew did not commit this crime, and I say that because I witnessed Gregory Boyd kill Ronald Walker."

On September 25, 2020, Cook County Circuit Court Judge Aleksandra Gillespie concluded that Drew’s allegations and supporting evidence entitled him to an evidentiary hearing on his actual innocence claim “for sure.”

In October 2020, Drew’s attorneys, Tepfer and Leonard, filed a petition with Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker seeking executive clemency.

“Frank Drew is uniquely qualified for executive clemency—either an innocence pardon or a commutation of his sentence to time served. This is because he is plainly innocent. It is not even a close call,” the petition said. The petition was denied.

On May 27, 2022, Judge Anjana Hansen vacated Drew’s conviction based on Ruff’s recantation. “Ruff’s affidavit indicating that he has no idea who shot Ronald Walker…calls into question his fingering of Lurry as a codefendant and, in turn, Lurry’s statement that [Drew] shot and killed Ronald Walker,” Judge Hansen said. “I do find at this time that Maurice Ruff’s affidavit and testimony is new and material evidence.”

On June 17, 2022, Drew was released on bond, more than 23 years after he was convicted.

On March 12, 2024, the prosecution dismissed the case.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 4/10/2024
Last Updated: 4/10/2024
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1996
Sentence:60 years
Age at the date of reported crime:16
Contributing Factors:False Confession, False or Misleading Forensic Evidence, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No