CHICAGO (CBS) — A Cook County judge has thrown out the convictions of two men who spent nearly 45 combined years in prison for the 1989 of a retired Chicago police sergeant’s wife, based on DNA evidence and allegations of police torture.
Kevin Bailey and Corey Batchelor were 19 when they were found guilty of the fatal stabbing of Lula Mae Woods, whose body was found in the garage of her home in June 1989.
Batchelor was sentenced to 30 years in prison, and was released on parole in 2004 after 15 years behind bars. Bailey was sentenced to 80 years in prison, and remained in custody Tuesday morning, but with their convictions now dismissed, Bailey soon will go free after 29 years in prison.
Attorneys with the Innocence Project have been seeking to clear the two men’s names. They have maintained their innocence ever since their arrests, and have said they were tortured into confessing by former Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge’s infamous “midnight crew” at Area 2 headquarters.
Cook County prosecutors have been reviewing the case for about seven months, including dozens of interviews, and concluded there was insufficient evidence to uphold the convictions.
Innocence Project attorney Jarrett Adams said last year that newly acquired DNA evidence proves Bailey and Batchelor are innocent. He said hair from a Domino’s Pizza hat found under Woods’ body does not match either man’s DNA, and neither does DNA evidence on a bloody towel found at the scene.
Bailey and Batchelor hugged each other in court after the judge dismissed their convictions.
Batchelor said it was surprising to him that he is probably more emotional about being cleared of the charges than Bailey, given that Bailey is still in prison.
“When I heard the judge finally say it, it did give me a personal connection to finally just hear those words that I always knew in that same exact building behind us in 1989, that no matter what happens, before I leave this earth, I will leave an innocent man, or at least I will die trying,” Batchelor said.
Batchelor said, if it were not for the support system he had, he wouldn’t have been able to continue fighting to prove his innocence for nearly 30 years, while Bailey remained behind bars the entire time.
“Deep down inside, I know we were never there. It’s just been a tremendous weight, but I thank God, and I thank the people that supported me, and my legal team that believed enough in me. I thank God for their support, because that’s actually what helped me to make it through. People helped me make it through,” he said.
“Had it not been for the support, I wouldn’t be here today. But I continue to accept the support; and I continue to believe in myself, and believe that more and more, as time passes, I can see the light. I can see the light get brighter and brighter, and that’s what motivates me to go to work, to talk to people, to get involved as much as I could, and that’s what got me here to this day,” he added.