Chicago man exonerated in 1994 murders of his two friends after being wrongfully convicted
CHICAGO - Charges have been dropped against a man who spent nearly 30 years in prison for a 1994 double murder he has long said he didn’t commit — yet another case that has fallen apart over allegations of Chicago police misconduct.
David Wright was 17 when he was arrested for the killing two neighborhood friends, Tyrone Rockett and Robert Smith. Now 46, he appeared before Judge Carol Howard Wednesday as Cook County prosecutors said they were dropping all charges against him after an appeals court threw out his confession.
Wright’s supporters broke out in applause in the courtroom before deputies and the judge asked them to remain quiet.
"I’m gonna try and get my life back," Wright said afterward as he stood in the lobby of the Leighton Criminal Courthouse.
Wright was arrested on Aug. 23, 1994, about six months after the murders. Chicago police detectives claimed they had learned he was the gunman, though there were no witnesses who identified him and no physical evidence linking him to the murders, his attorneys at the Exoneration Project said.
Wright was convicted on the sole basis of a confession he signed after a 14-hour interrogation during which he was abused and coerced by detectives, according to attorney David Owens.
Detectives had told Wright his older brother was also a suspect and would likely get the death penalty because he was an adult unless Wright confessed, Owens said.
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Wright’s lawyers have argued that the detectives who interrogated Wright had a pattern of obtaining false confessions. At least 25 convictions tied to their investigations have been overturned, according to the Exoneration Project’s records.
Wright was released from prison last September after his confession was thrown out and a new trial was ordered, Owens said.
The attorney said he plans to file a petition for a certificate of innocence for Wright within the next month. If awarded, the certificate would clear Wright’s record and allow him to seek damages from the city.
Wright said he’s focused on completing an education program to obtain his GED, which he said he was never allowed to seek while incarcerated because he was serving a life sentence.
Family members of one of the men killed said they were only notified of the hearing on Sunday, leaving them little time to prepare themselves.
"There’s no winners for any of the families involved," said Sabrina Morgan, who was 13 when her brother, Robert Smith, was killed.
"There’s no case gonna be opened. There’s no one who’s going to trace it back. So if it wasn’t him, who was it?" she asked. "We don’t have any answers. Where is the justice?"