Men convicted of 1994 rape/murder claim DNA evidence exonerates them

SUN-TIMES MEDIA WIRE - Two men who have spent the last 23 years in prison are serving time for a rape and murder they could not possibly have committed, according to a new filing by attorneys for the Exoneration Project.

Nevest Coleman and Darryl Fulton were convicted in 1997 of the April 1994 murder and aggravated sexual assault of Antwinica Bridgeman in the South Side Englewood neighborhood, according to court and IDOC records.

The victim had been out celebrating her 20th birthday when she disappeared, and was found weeks later in Coleman’s basement.

Coleman and Fulton were convicted “despite no physical evidence linking them to the crime,” a statement from their attorneys, Russell Ainsworth of The Exoneration Project, and  Kathleen Zellner, said.

Coleman, who had worked as a groundskeeper at Comiskey Park for 25 years, had a 2-year-old daughter and 3-month-old son, and “had never been arrested before in his life. He lost both parents while he was in prison,” his attorneys said.

Now 48, he is incarcerated at Hill Correctional Center, while Fulton, now 51, is an inmate at the Menard Correctional Center, according to IDOC records.

In a filing in Cook County Circuit Court on Monday, the attorneys claims “new DNA evidence points to another suspect,” a serial rapist who is not named.

“Recent DNA testing has matched semen on the victim’s underwear and sweatshirt, as well as DNA from underneath the victim’s fingernails, to that of a serial rapist, whose identity is currently undisclosed, and completely excluded Coleman and Fulton,” the statement read.

“Despite the new evidence and an ample history of misconduct by the detectives who conducted the original investigation, Cook County States Attorney Kim Foxx is opposing the release of Coleman and Fulton,” the attorneys said.

However, the state’s attorney’s office released a statement saying the case remains under review.

“Mr. Coleman’s case remains the subject of an intense review and investigation by the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office Conviction Integrity Unit,” the statement read.

“As stated in court today, we believe it is inappropriate to release Mr. Coleman until we have additional information about what role Mr. Coleman played in the rape and murder for which he was convicted. We are awaiting additional DNA results and have asked for an expedited examination from the laboratory. We will continue to approach the investigation of Mr. Coleman’s conviction with urgency, and remain in contact with Mr. Coleman’s counsel as the investigation proceeds.”

Attorneys think it is unfair for their client to wait in prison.

“The sole evidence against the defendants at the time of the trial was Coleman’s coerced confession, obtained by notorious Area 2 detectives. All of the forensic evidence then available excluded Mr. Coleman and the two men implicated by his confession,” the statement said.

Those detectives “have been the subject of investigation after numerous convictions have unraveled due to a pattern of false confessions in their cases,” the attorneys claim.

Bill Foley, lead detective on Coleman’s case, who obtained the confession, “has been revealed as the detective who obtained a false confession from Harold Richardson in the now-notorious ‘Englewood Four,'” attorneys claim.

Other detectives on the case “trained under the infamous Jon Burge, and have been accused by dozens of men of coercing false confessions, including many Burge-era exonerees,” they said.

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