Illinois Convicts Real Killer 14 Years After Wrongfully Convicted Man Is Released

Jeralyn told the story of Rolando Cruz way back in 2002. Cruz, Alejandro Hernandez and another man were charged with raping and murdering a 10-year-old girl who was abducted from her home in Naperville, Illinois in 1983. Cruz and Hernandez were convicted and sentenced to death in 1985. (The jury hung as to the third man and he was never recharged.)

All three men were innocent. The crime was actually committed by Brian Dugan, who went on to murder a 27-year-old woman in 1984 and a 7-year-old girl in 1985. If the police hadn't been so busy fabricating evidence against Cruz and his co-defendants, they might have apprehended Dugan before he committed those later crimes and Cruz would have been spared the 11 years he spent on death row.

Even worse, police and prosecutors knew in late 1985 that Dugan was the killer because he offered to confess to the 1983 murder during plea negotiations concerning the two subsequent homicides. They chose not to believe Dugan because he said he committed the crime alone -- a fact that made the death sentences imposed on Cruz and Hernandez rather inconvenient for the prosecutors who obtained them. [more ...]

As Jeralyn wrote here, the convictions were twice overturned on appeal, but that didn't stop prosecutors from bringing Cruz to trial a third time in 1995 -- despite Dugan's confession and despite DNA tests that linked Dugan to the murder. It was only after a law enforcement witness against Cruz acknowledged committing perjury that the judge in the third trial took the rare step of directing a verdict of acquittal, sparing Cruz from the risk of being convicted and sentenced to death a third time. The charges against Hernandez were dismissed later that year.

Another ten years lapsed after Cruz' 1995 acquittal before prosecutors finally charged Dugan with the 1983 murder and rape. The case against Dugan was supported by a new, more sophisticated DNA analysis conducted in 2002. This week, Dugan entered guilty pleas to the charges.

The question now is whether Dugan will be sentenced to death. Given the nearly dozen years he spent on death row, Cruz thinks it's only fair that the real killer should receive the same sentence. Dugan's lawyers, on the other hand, argue that Dugan's 1985 admission was intended to spare Cruz from the death penalty and should be considered as a mitigating circumstance. A jury will decide Dugan's fate at a sentencing trial scheduled to begin on September 22.

Meanwhile, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn said that the state's moratorium on executions should remain in place until reforms can be implemented to ensure that innocent defendants like Cruz never again face the death penalty. That day will never come, a fact that Quinn surely understands even if he lacks the political courage to admit it. No system of determining guilt is foolproof. The understandable outrage the public feels about the brutal and vicious acts that Dugan committed can't change that reality. The only way to assure that innocent people aren't executed is to eliminate death as a sentencing option.

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    Its Too Bad (5.00 / 0) (#21)
    by john horse on Sat Aug 01, 2009 at 07:55:03 AM EST
    that Cruz and Hernandez were actually innocent.  If our system didn't allow judicial review of prosecutor cases then think about what life would be like.  Simple.  Uncomplicated.  Cool.  (sarcasm alert)  

    Through all the years of reading about this (none / 0) (#2)
    by ruffian on Fri Jul 31, 2009 at 07:51:32 AM EST
    story, it never fails to horrify.

    There is no way to make sure it never happens to anyone else. The death penalty has to be abolished, pure and simple.

    Forensics (none / 0) (#3)
    by jarober on Fri Jul 31, 2009 at 08:38:41 AM EST
    Here's something you might want to write more about: real doubts are cropping up about Forensic Science.

    Ever since DNA testing went live, lots of bungled prosecutions have come to light - and more are likely to follow.  That Popular Mechanics article was a real eye opener to me...

    We have. (5.00 / 1) (#6)
    by TChris on Fri Jul 31, 2009 at 09:09:07 AM EST
    TalkLeft has frequently written about the perils of forensic evidence.  Type 'forensic' into the search box for relevant posts.

    "DNA evidence" (2.00 / 1) (#15)
    by diogenes on Fri Jul 31, 2009 at 07:11:39 PM EST
    If juries actually start demanding either videotaped confessions or DNA evidence before they convict for murder, then a lot of Dugans are going to be wrongfully acquitted.  As Dugan shows us, the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.    

    Is this considered malpractice? (none / 0) (#4)
    by samtaylor2 on Fri Jul 31, 2009 at 08:54:17 AM EST

    What a stupid comment (none / 0) (#5)
    by ggb on Fri Jul 31, 2009 at 09:04:05 AM EST

    All you had to say was you were being sarcastic .. (none / 0) (#17)
    by ggb on Fri Jul 31, 2009 at 09:22:10 PM EST
    but ... I guess you were being sarcastic again.

    Authority without accountability (none / 0) (#8)
    by Rojas on Fri Jul 31, 2009 at 09:36:50 AM EST
    is the root cause IMHO. These are civil rights violations under the color of law. We need to get the feds out of criminal law (where they commit the same kinds of abuses) and back into the role of oversight.

    Senator Roland Burris, (none / 0) (#9)
    by KeysDan on Fri Jul 31, 2009 at 09:51:34 AM EST
    then Illinois Attorney General played a controversial role in the Rolando Cruz case, ignoring Assistant Prosecutor Kenney's warnings about the case.

    Cruz' conviction was no "mistake." (none / 0) (#10)
    by Chuck0 on Fri Jul 31, 2009 at 10:03:43 AM EST
    Some of the articles refer to Cruz's conviction as a mistake. There was too much evidence exonerating him for it to be a mistake. This is law enforcement and prosecutorial malfeasance. However, as usual, the real guilty ones (and I don't mean Dugan) will suffer NO consequences. Those responsible for Cruz's conviction are the ones who belong in prison.

    Dugan is a real criminal (none / 0) (#11)
    by nyjets on Fri Jul 31, 2009 at 11:38:03 AM EST
    Dugan is guilty of three murders and belongs in prison. If you want to say that those responsible for Crus's covicition belongs in jail as much as Dugan, fine. But please, Dugan is a criminal who belongs in prison.

    Never said Dugan (none / 0) (#12)
    by Chuck0 on Fri Jul 31, 2009 at 01:48:47 PM EST
    didn't belong in prison. Don't read stuff into my posts that aren't there.

    "The only way (none / 0) (#13)
    by wagnert in atlanta on Fri Jul 31, 2009 at 05:30:32 PM EST
    to assure that innocent people aren't executed is to eliminate death as a sentencing option."

    And the only way to assure that innocent people aren't punished is to eliminate punishment.  Of course, innocent people will still get it in the neck, just from a different direction.

    A few of the tales of unjust punishment I have heard are the result of bad fortune or malign concidence.  Most are due to venal police, bigoted judges, vicious prosecutors or lazy defense attorneys -- and I don't recall those perpetrators ever being called to account for their misdeeds.

    Let's keep the death penalty, along with other punishments, and deal them out occasionally to those who pervert justice from the inside.

    And tell me, what is that sheer number? (none / 0) (#22)
    by wagnert in atlanta on Sat Aug 01, 2009 at 09:27:27 PM EST
    Those cases make good headlines, but very bad philosophy.  Blackstone said, "Better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer."  Even Maimonides set the ratio no higher than a thousand to one.  Of course I would hate like hell to be executed for something I didn't do, but I think I would prefer that to spending life in prison.

    The thing that strikes me about the instances where an innocent is released after years in prison or on death row is the state's total lack of interest in compensating the victim or fixing the process that convicted him.

    In most cases, he has to sue to be paid for the time he spent in prison, and as for punishing the officials who put him there (assuming bad faith, not bad luck) -- well, forget it.  Michael Nifong, the race-baiting prosecutor in the Duke lacrosse rape case, was disbarred and spent one night -- one night! -- in the county slammer, and the case made headlines.  Repeat this a hundred times across the US, and we might be on our way to reducing the number of unjustified convictions.

    The point I want to make is that we should do our utmost to hone the legal process so that the guilty are punished and the innocent released, quickly and efficiently.  When the process goes wrong, the problem should be analyzed and corrected.  Instead, you advocate throwing up our hands and saying, "We can't do it right, so we shouldn't do it at all."  That's not a solution, it's a surrender.


    One every ten years. (none / 0) (#24)
    by wagnert in atlanta on Sun Aug 02, 2009 at 07:46:34 PM EST
    There, you have an answer.  Happy now?  
    Your mandatory links are interesting.  There is a long list of persons whose death sentences were overturned, but only four quoted instances since 1976 of supposedly innocent persons being executed -- four in 33 years.  None of those "innocents" were definitively exonerated, either -- the reviewer just felt their claims didn't get a fair hearing.  Maybe the death penalty doesn't miscarry as often as you think.

    Most of the death row inmates whose sentences were overturned weren't exonerated by some newly discovered piece of evidence, like a DNA mismatch.  Their convictions were overturned by appeals courts finding their trials were botched beyond repair -- and that is something that the judges, lawyers, law enforcement officials and witnesses should be held to account for.  Not that this happens -- usually the episode is just swept under the rug.  An exception is Cruz's case.  Seven DuPage officials were tried for conspiracy.  They were acquitted.  How about raising hell over that?  If the death penalty is eliminated, people like that will railroad the innocent into life without parole, and we have agreed that is worse than death.


    problem here? (none / 0) (#16)
    by diogenes on Fri Jul 31, 2009 at 07:22:09 PM EST
    "Cruz was not initially a person of interest for the crime until he attempted to claim the $10,000 reward for information on the murder with a fabricated story."  as per Wikipedia.
    In fact, Cruz was not executed, instead being one of three who settled for 3.5 million dollars due to the injustices in this case.
    Of course, maybe Cruz was the victim of self-induced bad karma; what kind of person fabricates a story about a murdered ten year old and foists it on grieving parents (assuming one believes Wikipedia on this case)?