CWC Client Exonerated on Charges from 1995 Double Murder

February 16, 2017

On February 15, the State of Illinois dropped all charges against the Bluhm Legal Clinic’s Center on Wrongful Convictions (CWC) client Charles Johnson and three other men—Larod Styles, LaShawn Ezell, and Troshawn McCoy—known as the “Marquette Park Four,” who were only teenagers when they confessed to a 1995 double murder. 

On December 4, 1995, the owners of two used car lots were shot and killed on the southwest side of Chicago. The perpetrators escaped in two cars stolen from the lot, followed by a third car containing two co-conspirators who acted as lookouts. Six hours later, the stolen cars were found, abandoned, five miles from the crime scene. Police recovered marketing stickers that were on the front window shields of the cars when they were on the lot, but had been removed.

Based on an anonymous tip, one of the codefendants was picked up and pressured into confessing; he in turn implicated the other codefendants, including Johnson. Johnson’s case caught the attention of Professor Steven Drizin, current assistant dean of the Bluhm Legal Clinic and a nationally-renowned false confession scholar. The CWC took on Johnson’s case in 2008.

“Most of these young people thought they were going home after signing confessions,” Drizin told Medill Reports.

The CWC, partnering with attorneys from Kirkland & Ellis, moved for forensic testing of more than two dozen unmatched finger and palm prints lifted from the cars the killers had touched on the lot, the recovered stolen cars, and the marketing stickers that had been peeled off the stolen cars. The new testing excluded Johnson and all of the codefendants, and also pointed to a teenager with a criminal record who lived less than one block from where the perpetrators abandoned the cars. The CWC used the evidence to secure a new trial, and Johnson was released on bond last fall. This week, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s office agreed to drop all charges.

"The dismissal of these cases today illustrates my absolute commitment to ensuring that this office reviews and addresses any credible claim of wrongful conviction or actual innocence," Foxx said in a statement.

Prosecutors originally sought the death penalty in Johnson’s case, though a jury sentenced him to life without parole.

"This is a powerful testament to some of the reasons why we abolished the death penalty here in Illinois," Drizin said.

To read more about Johnson and other exonerees, visit the CWC.