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Reginald Henderson

Other Cook County, Illinois exonerations
https://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/PublishingImages/Reginald_Henderson_photo.jpeg
On September 17, 2021, more than 27 years after they were arrested for the murder of a 10-year-old boy on the south side of Chicago, Sean Tyler and his brother, Reginald Henderson, were exonerated. The dismissal of their first-degree murder convictions was the culmination of years of legal battles over their claims that police targeted and tortured them until they falsely confessed.

Tyler was 17 and his brother was 18 on March 29, 1994, when Rodney Collins was fatally shot while riding his bike at 5 p.m. near the intersection of 51st Street and Winchester Avenue. Collins was caught in a crossfire between two street gangs—the Gangster Disciples and the Blackstones. Tyler’s nickname was “Droopy” and Henderson’s was “Bullwinkle.”

According to their lawyers, Henderson and Tyler were framed by Chicago Police detectives who had worked under the leadership of homicide commander Jon Burge. Henderson and Tyler said that detectives punched them until they agreed to falsely confess. They were targeted because Tyler had exposed similar misconduct by the detectives working on the fatal shooting of 16-year-old Alfredo Hernandez on September 25, 1991.

Tyler, then 15, was outside his house when he saw Hernandez get killed. Police arrested six juveniles, including 13-year-old Marcus Wiggins, for the murder. Wiggins claimed that two detectives working under Burge—Kenneth Boudreau and James O’Brien—punched him in the chest, hit him over the head with a flashlight, and electroshocked him until he falsely confessed.

Tyler knew that Wiggins did not shoot Hernandez, but he was too afraid to come forward because of reports that police were torturing suspects and witnesses. For a brief time, Tyler relocated to Wisconsin.

He finally did come forward in July 1992 and met with Wiggins’s attorney Julie Hull. The case received widespread publicity, and Boudreau and O’Brien were named as the torturers. Tyler’s exonerating testimony was published, but his name was not because Hull had not disclosed it. In September 1992, the judge on Wiggins’s case, Earl Strayhorn, ordered Tyler’s name to be made public. Hull agreed to provide Tyler’s name to the defense, but only if the court entered an order mandating that the police involved in the investigation were to have no contact with Tyler. Moreover, no other Chicago police officer could have contact with Tyler without express permission from Judge Strayhorn.

After Tyler testified during a hearing on a motion to suppress Wiggins’s confession, the confession was barred from evidence as false. Subsequently, Wiggins and all of the co-defendants were either acquitted or their cases were dismissed by the prosecution. The Chicago police Office of Professional Standards found that Boudreau and O’Brien violated department orders relating to the treatment of juvenile suspects. Their reputations had been tarnished. Years later, testifying in a federal lawsuit filed by Wiggins, Boudreau described himself as “one of the detectives who put [Sean Tyler] in the penitentiary. And he said that other detectives who helped included O’Brien, William Moser, Michael Clancy, and John Halloran.

When Rodney Collins was shot, Boudreau, O’Brien and the other detectives went to work, spurred by media reports of parents fearing to let their children play outside because of a plethora of shootings. “Gang war paralyzes South Side,” read a headline in the Chicago Tribune newspaper. The accompanying article reported a “flurry of shootings” that claimed 13 lives in a weekend.

The detectives located 18-year-old Kenneth McGraw and obtained a statement from him that implicated “Droopy” and “Stutter,” which was the nickname for Marcus Wiggins, who was later determined to be out of state at the time Collins was killed. The statement also said that McGraw saw Henderson give a gun to Tyler.

McGraw would later testify that he was drunk at the time he was brought in for questioning, that he didn’t know anything about the shooting, but that he gave a false statement after Boudreau beat him up.

The officers also obtained a statement from 18-year-old Antoine Ward implicating “Bullwinkle.” Ward would later say he was locked in a room so long that he was forced to urinate in a desk drawer. He said he gave a false statement after he was hit on the side of his head and his hand was stepped on.

On March 30, police brought Henderson to the station. Henderson later said that police said, “We know your brother is involved.” Early police reports erroneously identified Henderson as “Reginald Tyler.”

Henderson said he was handcuffed to a ring on a wall in an interrogation room and left alone for 24 hours. Finally, on March 31, Detective William Foley questioned him about the shooting. Henderson said he denied involvement and said he was home at the time of the shooting. Foley told him that police knew he was involved because they had evidence that his brother was there.

When Henderson continued to deny involvement, Foley grabbed him by the throat and said, “We know you are lying, and you’re going to get 50 [obscenity] years for murder.” When Henderson did not respond, Foley punched him in the chest more than five times, Henderson later said.

Foley left the room and no one returned until the following day—April 1, 1994, when Detective Halloran came in. Halloran moved him to a different room that Halloran called the “Mission Room.” There Halloran and Foley were present when Assistant State’s Attorney Virginia Bigane gave Henderson his Miranda warning for the first time. When Henderson refused to answer questions, Foley went behind him, slapped him in the back of the head and smacked his ears. When Henderson still refused to respond, Foley slammed his head on the table. Henderson was brought back to the interrogation room, where he was again cuffed to a ring on the wall. Police would later testify that this was when Henderson was actually taken into custody.

Henderson was later put in a lineup, but he was not identified. That evening, detectives Foley and Clancy again brought him to the Mission Room. Henderson said Assistant State’s Attorney Steven Klaczynski was there. The men placed an empty McDonald’s bag in front of him and took a picture. Henderson said he had not been given any food or water or allowed to use a bathroom since he was first brought in on March 30—two days earlier.

Henderson said Klaczynski asked him his name and then wrote a statement in silence for the next 10 minutes. He asked Henderson to initial it in certain places and sign it. The statement was not read aloud. Henderson, who was functionally illiterate at the time, signed it without reading it.

By that time, police had also obtained a false confession from 18-year-old Andrew Taylor. According to Taylor, Halloran gave him a pre-written statement to sign in which Taylor confessed to having shot Collins, but claimed it was an accident. When Taylor refused to sign the statement, Halloran slapped him and Boudreau kicked him in the groin. Taylor was then handcuffed to a coat rack. He later said his repeated requests for an attorney were denied and he was never read his rights. When he tried to eat, Foley dumped his cigarette ashes in Taylor’s soda and then extinguished the cigarette on Taylor’s bread.

On April 2, one day after Henderson signed his false confession, detectives arrested Tyler. He said he was playing video games with friends at the time of the crime and offered their names. He was interrogated over the course of 12 hours by several detectives, including Robert Lenihan, William Moser, William Foley, and Michael Clancy.

Tyler was placed in two lineups. Detective said that Andrea Murray had picked him out as someone she saw running from the scene of the shooting. After she picked them, O’Brien told her that Tyler was a troublemaker and that O’Brien was going “make sure that [he] did not get away with it this time.”

Tyler said the detectives dismissed his denials and refused his requests to see his mother and get an attorney. He said the officers punched him in the chest and the face numerous times. He was told to cooperate or the abuse would continue. Then the detectives showed him the statement signed by Henderson. Henderson was much bigger and stronger than Tyler, which made Tyler even more afraid. He agreed to say whatever the police wanted him to say.

After Tyler signed his statement, he was taken to a hospital emergency room because he began vomiting blood.

Ultimately, Tyler, Henderson, Ward and Taylor, along with Andrew Ganoway, were charged with murder. Ganoway’s nickname was “Droopy,” the same as Tyler’s. Ganoway pled guilty and was sentenced to 38 years in prison.

In September 1995, Tyler and Ward went to trial in Cook County Circuit Court. Tyler chose to have his case heard by a jury and Ward chose to have his case decided by the judge. The detectives denied harming Tyler.

The prosecution presented the statement attributed to Tyler saying that Carl, the chief of security for the Gangster Disciples, said that they needed to “take care of business” in the area, which meant to shoot some Blackstones, rival gang members. The statement said Carl handed Tyler a .380-semiautomatic pistol and told him to shoot any Blackstones coming in his direction. The group then broke up to take their various positions, and Tyler stood in a gangway between Wolcott and Winchester Avenues. Soon afterward, Tyler heard 18 or 19 shots, which he believed were fired from two different guns, coming from Winchester Avenue. Once he heard the shots, he ran north on Wolcott Avenue and met up with Carl. The two ran east toward Honore Street, through gangways. In the gangway between Wolcott Avenue and Honore Street, Tyler handed the gun back to Carl.

Murray testified that she looked out her window after hearing gunshots and saw two boys running away. She said Tyler was one of them.

Dr. Bruce Tizes testified that he saw Tyler at Chicago Osteopathic Hospital. He said he treated him for vomiting and saw no signs of physical abuse. Dr. Tizes said Tyler did not mention that police had assaulted him.

Tyler testified that he was with friends playing video games at the time of the shooting. He also described how he was beaten and taken to the hospital. He denied involvement in the crime.

Donald Jones testified that he and Tyler were playing video games and then ran some errands. He said they were in a car on the way back home when they saw police activity and an ambulance near 51st and Winchester. Jones said Tyler got out of the car at that time.

To corroborate the physical abuse to which he was subjected, Tyler called his cousin Teresa Bonner and his mother, Evie Tyler. Both testified that they saw Tyler a day or two after he was arrested, that the left side of his face was swollen, and that Tyler told them that it was swollen because police had beaten him.

Tyler’s lawyer failed to present any evidence that another defendant in the case—Ganoway, who had pled guilty—was also nicknamed “Droopy.” Nor did he present any evidence about the Wiggins case being a motive for police to frame him.

On September 27, 1995, the jury convicted Tyler of first-degree murder. He was sentenced to 58 years in prison, a sentence that was later reduced on appeal to 50 years. Ward was convicted by the judge and sentenced to 29 years in prison.

Henderson and Michael Taylor went to trial in August 1996. Henderson chose to have his case decided by a jury and Taylor chose to have his case decided by the judge.

The prosecution’s case relied primarily on the statements obtained from the pair. Detectives testified that the statements were given voluntarily and that there was no abuse. The detectives said they arrested Henderson while he was walking on the street on March 31.

According to Henderson’s statement, he gave a gun to Tyler, who fired numerous shots during the crossfire.

The prosecution also relied on the statement given by McGraw. When called to testify, McGraw said that he was intoxicated during the interrogation and had no memory of seeing Henderson, speaking to the police, or implicating Henderson. He testified that the detectives physically abused him. The prosecution was allowed to impeach his testimony by reading his statement into the record.

Henderson’s attorney, Leo Fox, failed to interview the alibi witnesses that Henderson told him about so neither was called. Fox’s failure to investigate another case resulted in the 1992 wrongful conviction of Wilder “Ken” Berry, who was exonerated in 2000.

Henderson testified and denied involvement in the crime. He testified that he was arrested on March 30, 1994, between the hours of 12:00 p.m. and 1 :00 p.m. at 5221 South Wood Street, not on March 31, 1994 as the police officers claimed. He admitted that he signed the statement, but said he never read it and only signed it because of the abuse. He recounted how Foley struck him and slammed his head onto the table while prosecutor Bigane was present.

He agreed that his nickname was Bullwinkle but denied any affiliation with the Gangster Disciples. He said he did not know McGraw. And while he was aware there were gangs in the area, he did not know which parts of the neighborhood were considered gang territory because he had been living in Michigan until recently.

Henderson denied telling Halloran any of the information in the statement and denied that the information in the statement was true. He said that throughout his custody he was not given food, water, or access to the restroom. He testified that about a week after he was taken into custody, Cook County Department of Corrections gave him medicine for his bruised ribs and chest, injuries he did not have prior to being in custody.

After his testimony, the prosecution called detectives O'Brien and Halloran in rebuttal. O'Brien testified that he was working on March 30, 1994 and did not see Henderson in the station. Halloran testified that the only people there on March 30, 1994 were Antoine Ward and Kenneth McGraw. Halloran also testified that Detective Foley was not present in the interview with Bigane and he never saw anyone hit Henderson.

The prosecution’s final witness was Bigane, who testified that she did not see Foley hit Henderson.

On August 21, 1996, the jury convicted Henderson of first-degree murder. He was sentenced to 55 years in prison. The judge convicted Taylor of first-degree murder and sentenced him to 29 years in prison.

The Illinois Appellate Court, in separate decisions, affirmed their convictions.

Henderson filed a post-conviction petition in 2000. The petition was misplaced by the Cook County clerk’s office. He filed another petition in 2007 claiming he was entitled to a new trial because of his defense lawyer’s failure to call alibi witnesses. The petition was denied on the ground that the lawyer’s decision not to call the witnesses was a strategic decision.

In 1998, Tyler, acting without a lawyer, filed a post-conviction petition seeking a new trial. He alleged his arrest was retribution for his testimony exonerating Wiggins. The trial court dismissed the petition, but in 2002, the Illinois Appellate Court remanded the petition for a hearing.

The petition remained dormant until an amended petition was filed in September 2008 by attorneys for the Exoneration Project, a free legal clinic at the University of Chicago Law School.

The petition recounted dozens of documented instances of torture and abuse of suspects and witnesses by the officers involved in Tyler’s prosecution. The petition said that witness Andrea Murray recanted her identification of Tyler. She said that she was new to the neighborhood and was not able to identify anyone, but the officers pressured her to make an identification. She said that prior to viewing the lineup, detectives showed her photographs of Tyler and Taylor and told her to identify them. She said that she was later paid more than $1,100 for expenses to relocate—evidence that the prosecution had failed to disclose at Tyler’s trial. In her affidavit, Murray said the prosecution “bought” her testimony.

In addition, Dr. Fiona Gallahue examined Tyler’s medical records and concluded that his vomiting of blood could have been caused by “direct trauma to the esophagus or abnormal pressure changes in the esophagus.” Those changes could occur if a person were swallowing at the same time they were struck in the chest.

By then, the accounts of torture by Burge and his detectives had grown to involve scores of defendants. The torture had first come to light publicly in the prosecution of two other brothers—Andrew and Jackie Wilson. The Wilson brothers were convicted of the 1982 murders of two Chicago police officers. Their allegations of torture included being punched and kicked, and having revolvers stuck in their mouths and cocked. Andrew was tied to a radiator and burned. Andrew and Jackie were connected to a hand-cranked generator and given electric shocks.

In October 2008, one month after Tyler’s amended petition was filed, Burge, who had been fired and moved to Florida, was indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of obstruction of justice and perjury. U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said Burge “lied and impeded court proceedings” in 2003 by giving false written answers to questions in a federal civil lawsuit brought by Madison Hobley claiming that Burge and other detectives engaged in torture.

In August 2009, after years of political and legal infighting, the Illinois Torture Inquiry Relief Commission was established to review claims of defendants and to make recommendations for judicial review if the claims had merit.

In 2010, Burge was convicted in U.S. District Court and sentenced to 4½ years in prison.

In 2011, Tyler filed a claim with the Torture Inquiry Commission. In October 2012, while the torture claim was pending, Tyler’s post-conviction petition was dismissed. During a hearing, the prosecution had presented evidence that Murray recanted her recantation of her identification of Tyler. In dismissing the petition, Judge John Flood ruled that the evidence of abuse by the detectives was “pure speculation.”

In September 2015, the Illinois Appellate Court remanded the case back to the Circuit Court for a hearing on the issue of whether Detectives Moser and Clancy physically coerced Tyler’s confession due to newly available evidence in the form of pattern and practice evidence. The court also allowed hearings on whether Detectives Foley, O’Brien, Boudreau, and Halloran conspired to fabricate evidence against Tyler.

“Since the vast majority of the cases presented by [Tyler] involve allegations of police misconduct by two or more detectives, it is crucial to consider the claims of a systemic pattern of abuse in the context of several officers working together to obtain a false confession in the case at bar,” the court declared.

In 2018, Jackie Wilson was granted a new trial on the ground that he had been tortured. By then, his brother, Andrew had died in prison.

On February 7, 2019, attorneys Stephen Hall and Jennifer Bonjean filed a post-conviction petition on behalf of Henderson. The petition made claims of physical abuse by detectives Henderson, McGraw, and Ward. It also contained affidavits from two witnesses who said they would have testified at Henderson’s trial that he was at home with them at the time of the crime.

On February 15, 2019, Tyler was released on parole. He had spent more than 23 years in prison following his conviction. On April 16, 2020, Henderson was released on parole. He also had spent more than 23 years in prison following his conviction.

In September 2020, Jackie Wilson went to trial for a third time. On October 1, the prosecution dismissed the case before a verdict could be rendered because a prosecutor had given false testimony the day before.

On October 21, 2020, the Torture Inquiry Commission ruled that further hearings in court were required. Calling it a “close case,” the commission nonetheless said that the medical evidence as well as “the troubled history of the detectives accused of abuse merit a court examination of Tyler’s allegations.”

On September 17, 2021, when Tyler and his lawyers, Karl Leonard and Lauren Myerscough-Mueller of the Exoneration Project, as well as Henderson and his legal team came to court for a hearing on the torture claims, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office dismissed the case.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 10/12/2021
Last Updated: 10/12/2021
State:Illinois
County:Cook
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1994
Convicted:1996
Exonerated:2021
Sentence:55 years
Race/Ethnicity:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of reported crime:18
Contributing Factors:False Confession, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No