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Appeals Court Allows For DNA Testing In 1996 Highland Park Murder Case

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(Credit: AP)

(Credit: AP)

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WAUKEGAN, Ill. (CBS) — A state appeals court has ordered that DNA evidence from a 1997 murder trial in Lake County be tested for the first time.

As WBBM Newsradio’s Bernie Tafoya reports, Louis Rozo, 46, has already served more than 15 years of his 75-year sentence. He was convicted of the murder of retired speech pathology professor Christy Shervanian, 69, on Dec. 1, 1996, in his Highland Park home.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Bernie Tafoya reports

Rozo tried a few years ago to get a Lake County judge to order than evidence from the trial undergo DNA testing, but he was turned down.

But now, a higher court says samples of tissue from underneath the victim’s fingernails, and blood recovered from a glove, should be tested.

Rozo also wants the DNA samples to be compared to those of two men who were lovers of the victim. One of them, Rudolph Zink, even testified for the prosecution at Rozo’s trial in 1997.

“There is no reason not to test the already extant DNA evidence of the two other men whom (Rozo) alleges were actually involved in the murder. This evidence would be materially relevant to defendant’s claim of innocence,” Second District Appellate Justice Robert McLaren wrote in his opinion.

Rozo will be eligible for parole in 2034.

DNA evidence is a hot-button issue in Lake County, following several recent cases where it led to convictions being tossed, or charges being dropped.

Leading the high-profile cases in Lake County is that of Jerry Hobbs, who was jailed for five years awaiting trial, having been charged in the murders of his 8-year-old daughter, Laura Hobbs, and her friend, Krystal Tobias, 9. Their bodies were found in 2005 in the Beulah Park Forest Preserve in Zion.

Hobbs was released after being exonerated by DNA evidence.

A onetime friend of the Tobias family, Jorge Torrez, was charged with the murders last week by the Lake County State’s Attorney’s office. Meanwhile, Hobbs has sued Lake County, saying authorities coerced him to confess to the murders.

In another infamous case, James Edwards was convicted of the 1994 bludgeoning murder of Waukegan appliance store owner Frederick Reckling. Edwards was convicted in Reckling’s death in 1996 after he confessed, but DNA evidence later pointed to Hezekiah Whitfield, 42, of Chicago, who has since been charged.

Edwards remains in an Illinois prison on another conviction.

In a third high-profile incident, Juan Rivera was released from prison this past winter after being exonerated of the murder of Holly Staker, 11, in Waukegan in August 1992.

Staker was fatally stabbed and sexually assaulted while babysitting two younger children. Rivera confessed to the crime after an interrogation, but his DNA was not a match.

Rivera was convicted three times – in 1993, 1998 and 2009 – but his conviction was overturned each and every time. Finally, his conviction was tossed in December of last year, and the investigation into Staker’s death has begun anew.

In a fourth incident, Bennie Starks was exonerated earlier this month of the rape of a 68-year-old woman in Waukegan in 1986, after DNA evidence pointed to a different suspect.

The Lake County News-Sun contributed to this report, via the Sun-Times Media Wire.

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