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Daniel Taylor was 17 years old when he was arrested for disorderly conduct and put in a Chicago police station lockup on a November night in 1992. Unbeknownst to Taylor, he would soon be charged with a double-murder that happened around 2 hours into his 3 hour stint in jail.

Taylor was one of eight co-defendants arrested for the shooting deaths of Sharon Haugabook and Jeffrey Lassiter. Logs used by police to track the custody of individuals in the lockup showed Taylor could not have committed the murders. However, when called in for questioning 2 weeks later, Taylor gave a confession.

David Protess describes the circumstances by which Taylor came to give his confession: that he was roused from his sleep by police at 2 a.m., brought in for questioning without a lawyer, parent or guardian, and subjected to an interrogation that was not videotaped until he changed his story from denying involvement to confessing at 5:23 a.m.

According to the affidavit of retired Chicago police officer Michael Mitchell which was filed in Taylor’s post-conviction petition earlier this month, the prosecution’s theory at trial that the police log was inaccurate is false:

It is not possible that Daniel Taylor was released early, released by mistake or escaped from custody,” says Mitchell’s affidavit. “For this to have happened, numerous personnel from two separate watches would have had to conspire … to cover it up. … I would not and did not engage in any such conspiracy.

Mitchell was the police officer overseeing Taylor’s custody at the time of the murders.

At Taylor’s trial in 1995, State’s Attorney Jack O’Malley and his team dismissed a bond slip that showed Taylor was in custody for the three hours in question, as well as the underlying arrest report, saying they included clerical errors and should be disregarded by the jury. The state had a confession, so Taylor was guilty.

This theme continued after trial, all the way through 2001 when the Chicago Tribune investigated the case and turned up Brady material in the prosecutor’s file which hadn’t been disclosed to Taylor’s defense team, including handwritten notes from interviews with police officers who were in charge of the lockup at the time of the murder:

In the notes, several of the officers are certain Taylor was in the lockup when Taylor and the records say he was. One officer, James Gillespie, is quoted saying “he’s convinced” that Taylor was there at 10 p.m., words that are stronger than his trial testimony.

The Tribune also conducted interviews with witnesses and alleged co-defendants that pointed to his innocence. It reports:

Those [notes] showed police were trying to find a man who shared a lockup cell with Taylor. That man told the Tribune that once police found him and he said he remembered being locked up with a young black man, the police lost interest in him and never contacted him again. Had Taylor’s trial lawyer had the reports, he could have called the man as a witness to try to bolster the alibi that he was behind bars.

Confession in hand, State’s Attorney Dick Devine (who had taken over for O’Malley) set the Tribune’s investigation aside and defended Taylor’s guilt. His successor, Anita Alvarez, has said through her spokeswoman that she believes the claim of misconduct for withholding exculpatory evidence is “an unsubstantiated allegation.”

However, the Illinois Attorney General’s Office has drawn a different conclusion. They are currently investigating the case since they took over the federal appeal from Alvarez’s office. The Tribune reports:

In court filings and correspondence, the attorney general’s office says these notes should have been given to Diamond-Falk [Taylor’s attorney] before trial but it believes they were not. The office says the notes are important because they “arguably memorialize potentially exculpatory conversations with police officers tending to corroborate (Taylor’s) alibi defense.”

The Tribune notes that “The failure to turn over material that can help a defendant’s case at trial is among the most serious violations a prosecutor can commit.”

In an editorial for the Chicago Tribune, Eric Zorn argues that Alvarez’s stubbornness to concede error has dreadful implications; the case stands to become “a nationally famous example of how stubborn blind justice can be and how obtuse prosecutors still are on the issue of false confessions.”

For more information on false confessions, see: The National Registry of Exonerations, “Key Figures and Tables,” which demonstrates that 25% of cases where there is an exoneration for murder involve false confessions, and 56% involve official misconduct.

Taylor’s petition awaits hearings in federal court. He is now 37 years old. The Open File will report on new developments.

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