CHICAGO (CBS) — After more than 29 years behind bars, Demond Weston walked free Thursday morning, a day after a Cook County judge vacated his murder conviction when special prosecutors agreed to drop the charges.
As CBS 2 Investigator Megan Hickey reported, Weston, 46, was released from Dixon Correctional Center, about two hours west of Chicago. Later that night, CBS 2’s Jermont Terry was there was Weston had a most joyous reunion with his mother at home in Chicago.
On Wednesday, Cook County Judge Angela Munari-Petrone vacated Weston’s murder conviction. Weston was greeted by his family as he walked out of prison Thursday.
"I do not believe that any human being could go through that and have any dignity left. In my mind, I recall thinking that no one could save me. When I had screamed, nothing happened and no one came."
—Demond Weston (2014 affidavit)
Pictured is Weston holding his niece in 1995. pic.twitter.com/sEn1025jlC
— Injustice Watch (@injusticewatch) December 18, 2019
Weston has long claimed Chicago police detectives tortured him into a false confession in the killing of 19-year-old Joseph Watson in 1990. He said detectives beat him into a confession during a 12-hour interrogation.
Weston was only 17 when he was arrested for Watson’s murder and three other gang-related shootings on the same day. He has said detectives beat him during a 12-hour investigation, and his attorneys have said there was no physical evidence linking him to the crime.
The detectives Weston accused of abuse all had previously worked under the command of disgraced Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge, who served three years in prison for lying about the torture of suspects in the 1970s and 1980s. Burge died last year.
Special Cook County Prosecutor Robert Milan, who has been tasked with reviewing cases in which people are seeking new trials over allegations of police brutality, reportedly found Weston’s claims of abuse “unsubstantiated,” but also determined there wasn’t enough evidence to support a conviction.
Weston talked with CBS 2’s Terry on Thursday afternoon. He said in leaving prison and returning to Chicago, he didn’t exactly feel like he was back at home.
“In terms of the feel and looks, it doesn’t even look like it – in terms of everything has changed, so the feel has worn off,” he said.
Even Weston’s own attorney doubted the forced confession.
Weston said his attorney told him, “‘Oh, they’re not going to believe a black boy from Englewood over the word of these detectives,’ and stuff like that.”
“It made me feel how I was at that point – this big,’” he said, gesturing his hand to signify something minuscule.
But he said his own family always believed that he was innocent.
“Everybody knew I didn’t do the crime,” Weston said. “The fact that I made it to prison as an innocent man, it took a lot out of me.”
When the headlines about Burge’s torture of criminal suspects began coming out, Weston said he felt relieved in finding out he wasn’t alone.
“I hated that it happened to somebody else, but at the same time, I don’t understand if people don’t understand the relief to find out it didn’t just happen to you,” Weston said.
He said he started writing letters to others who were reported to be torture victims, though none responded.
Meanwhile, Weston earned a GED and an associate’s degree in prison.
“When I was in school, I was at my best,” he said.
As to what he wants to accomplish now, Weston said: “Right now, I think at this point, I can just be someone else’s hope – in terms of a light that they can see and point to and say, ‘OK, he made it.’ And I haven’t made it yet, but what I did today is I survived incarceration, because I was released. I was able to walk away.”
Weston said he did not hold the entire Chicago Police Department to blame for what happened – for he doesn’t know every officer, and he didn’t even really knew the detectives he said beat him.
“It wasn’t the Chicago Police Department,” he said. “It was a group of Chicago Police detectives.”
And when asked if he still believed in the justice system, Weston said, “It’s flawed.” He said he would have liked to see police and prosecutors at least admit that they got it wrong.
“Not only did you get it wrong, you continue to get it wrong. And not only do you continue to get it wrong, you’re getting it wrong the same way every time,” Weston said, adding that he was not the first innocent man sent to prison and would not be the last.
For his first meal, Weston said he wanted “anything that didn’t come in a vending machine.” He had pizza and a roast beef sandwich from a restaurant in Dixon, and he also had his first fried pickle.
After that, Weston jumped into a car back to Chicago where his mother waited.
“Best road trip ever – best trip ever, because it was taking me from a place that I didn’t want to be to a place I always wanted to be,” he said.
Weston’s mother jumped for joy to have her son home. It was a holiday homecoming where each hug meant so much.
Weston left a teen and returned a man. And while he is free, he said the transition will take time.
“It’s new journey, getting familiar with the faces around me,” he said.
Also a challenge will be forgetting the images of the confinements of prison walls. Weston made a point of saying many people die in prison, and he considers himself fortunate to have made it out.
Weston survived by relying on faith, and the many visits from his family for all those years.
Weston reportedly agreed not to seek a “certificate of innocence,” which would qualify him for $200,000 in compensation from the state.
Weston still could pursue a civil lawsuit.
CBS 2 Investigator Megan Hickey contributed to this report.