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Sentenced to 40 to 80 years in prison in 1976 for the murder of four minors and the burning of their home on the Southside of Chicago, Lloyd Lindsey was exonerated and released in 1979 when the Illinois Appellate Court found that inconsistencies in the testimony of the two primary witnesses belied the true facts of the case.
In the early morning hours of October 21, 1974, a tragic fire swept through the two-story residence of Mrs. Catherine Horace, killing her four children: Caroline, age 17, Beatrice, age 14, Cathy, age 11, and Maurice, age 7. (Maurice died several days after the fire of cerebral anoxia due to pulmonary burns). Charles Horace, age 13, and boarder, Lavelle Watkins, age 19, survived the fire unscathed, but were taken to the hospital for observation. At the hospital, investigators questioned Horace and Watkins together, at which time both claimed no knowledge of the fire’s root cause.
Later that day, Dr. Pasqual Cutaia of the Cook County Morgue examined the bodies of the three dead girls and determined each had died of smoke inhalation. No internal examination was performed on any of the three girls at that time. With no indication of foul play, the authorities initially concluded that the deaths of the four Horace children were accidental.
However, Charles Horace testified 35 days later before a Coroner’s Jury on November 25, 1974, claiming his siblings were murdered, causing the police to change their conclusion and begin a homicide investigation into the case. At the Coroner’s Jury, Horace accused church acquaintances Lloyd Lindsey, age 17, Eugene Ford, 25, and Willie Lee Robinson, 24, of raping and strangling his three sisters, bludgeoning his younger brother, and setting fire to the house. Charles said he failed to come forward earlier because of threats against his life. Lavelle Watkins would later corroborate the details of Horace’s shocking story during a police interrogation conducted immediately after Horace gave his testimony. Once the Coroner’s Jury adjourned, authorities brought in Lindsey and Ford for questioning and charged them both – along with Willie Lee Robinson – with four counts of murder, three of rape, one count of aggravated battery, and one count of arson.
At first, Lindsey denied the charges and asserted his innocence, but when investigators told him of Horace’s and Watkins’ account, he admitted to the crime. According to his signed, ten-page confession, he came to the Horace home with Ford and Robinson intending to rape the three sisters, not to murder them. The confession then stated that upon their arrival, Lindsey had forced himself on Beatrice while Ford and Robinson raped Caroline and Cathy. Charles Horace claims to have witnessed Ford strike his brother Maurice on the head with a stick, stab his sister, Caroline, in the head, and strangle Beatrice with a rope. Allegedly, Ford then spread gasoline throughout the house and set fire to it moments later. Neither Ford nor Robinson agreed with Charles Horace’s statement, and, at their arraignment, all three –including Lindsey – pleaded not guilty.To substantiate the particulars of the alleged crime, authorities exhumed the bodies of Caroline, Beatrice, and Cathy in April 1975 and subjected them to further tests. The pathologist who performed the autopsies found no evidence to support the claim of strangulation. Nor did he find any evidence that either Beatrice or Cathy were raped. In fact, to the contrary, both were virgins at the time of their deaths. And, although tests showed Caroline Horace was not a virgin, his examination revealed no genital injuries or residual seminal fluid to prove – one way or the other – whether a rape had actually occurred. Moreover, he found no indication that Caroline had been stabbed in the head as Horace and Watkins both maintained.
In July 1975, before the trial began, Lindsey moved to suppress statements taken from him by police during his arrest on the grounds of “lack of voluntariness and lack of probable cause.” The motion was denied. Additionally, Lindsey’s attorneys filed a motion to use Watkins’ juvenile court record and mental history during cross-examination in order to raise doubt as to the validity and reliability of his account. As psychological tests showed, Watkins, the boarder living with the Horace family at the time of the fire, was mentally handicapped by the standards of the Chicago school system. But after examining Watkins himself, the judge found him competent enough to testify and denied that motion as well.
For the trial, Judge Earl E. Strayhorn ruled that Lindsey be tried separately from codefendants Ford and Robinson since Lindsey was the only one to make an incriminating statement. In order to expedite the process, Judge Strayhorn had both juries sit in the same courtroom and listen to evidence simultaneously – an unprecedented ruling with no foundation in the history of Illinois cases. Both Watkins and Charles Horace would recapitulate their stories for both juries to hear. The only substantial difference between the two proceedings was the fact that Lindsey’s jury was allowed to hear his confession whereas Ford’s and Robinson’s jury was not. On December 11, 1975, Lindsey was found guilty on four counts of murder, one count of rape by accountability, one count of arson, and one count of aggravated battery. The very the next day, Ford and Robinson were both acquitted.
Sentenced to 40 to 80 years in prison, Lindsey appealed his case to the Illinois Appellate Court. After reviewing the evidence, the Court found that inconsistencies in the testimony of the two principle witnesses – Charles Horace and Lavelle Watkins – contradicted the physical evidence. Both testified that they had witnessed Lindsey and his two accomplices rape and strangle the Horace children when the forensic evidence showed no rape or strangulation had in fact occurred. Importantly, the Court found that Judge Strayhorn had erred in barring the defense from presenting Lavelle Watkins’ mental history. The Court’s decision stated that “inconsistencies in the testimony of [the two witnesses] were not only contradictory, but diluted this evidence to the level of palpable improbability and incredulity, thereby creating a reasonable doubt as to his guilt.”
The Illinois Appellate Court ruled in Lindsey’s favor and, on June 26, 1979, it reversed his conviction, requiring his release and barring a retrial.
– Researched by Jason Robin
The National Registry of Exonerations is a project of the Newkirk Center for Science & Society at University of California Irvine, the University of Michigan Law School and Michigan State University College of Law. It was founded in 2012 in conjunction with the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law. The Registry provides detailed information about every known exoneration in the United States since 1989—cases in which a person was wrongly convicted of a crime and later cleared of all the charges based on new evidence of innocence. The Registry also maintains a more limited database of known exonerations prior to 1989.
We welcome new information from any source about exonerations already on our list and about cases not in the Registry that might be exonerations.