CHICAGO (AP) — A man wrongfully convicted and imprisoned in the 1991 murder of a suburban Chicago girl can take the final steps toward cleaning up his record under a clemency petition Gov. Pat Quinn granted Wednesday.
Robert Taylor was one of five men convicted as a teenager in the rape and murder of 14-year-old Cateresa Matthews. The so-called “Dixmoor 5” served years in prison before they were cleared by DNA evidence. Taylor spent nearly two decades behind bars.
While records were expunged, Taylor had a lingering felony conviction for failing to show up to the final day of his trial, something that’s made it difficult to apply for jobs since his 2011 release. The granted petition allows Taylor to seek expungement for the bail bond violation through the courts.
“It was always a setback,” Taylor told The Associated Press. “It’s a good thing.”
Taylor’s attorneys at the Center on Wrongful Convictions of Northwestern University’s School of Law pushed Quinn to act on the petition for more than a year, recently calling for a decision before Quinn leaves office in January and Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner is sworn in.
Taylor explained he was a teenager who was simply scared to return to court that day. So he ran away.
“I knew it wasn’t going my way,” he said. “These people weren’t trying to hear the truth.”
Quinn’s office didn’t offer an explanation for the clemencies, which were announced via news release the afternoon before Thanksgiving. Quinn said he’s been making “significant progress” on a clemency backlog. Thousands of cases built up under his predecessor, imprisoned ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Quinn, a Chicago Democrat, took action on 311 cases on Wednesday, granting 126 and denying 185. Some date back to crimes committed in the early 1970s. Quinn has acted on 3,358 clemency petitions since taking office in 2009, granting 1,239.
“He examines each petition carefully and reaches a decision based on its merits,” Quinn spokesman Katie Hickey said.
Taylor’s case made national headlines when he was released, one of several similarly notorious cases that’ve put the Chicago area’s criminal justice system under scrutiny. Taylor said he was coerced into confessing. Earlier this year, a $40 million settlement was reached in a civil law suit filed against Illinois State Police.
These days, Taylor, 37, lives in suburban Chicago and takes care of his two-year-old. He struggles with making sense of his time behind bars, saying it’s hard to be fully happy with so many years of his youth lost.
“Basically I live for my son. I do everything I can for him,” he said. “My childhood is going through him. As long as I can see him happy, I’m good.”
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