McHENRY, Ill. - A McHenry woman has been released after spending more than 19 years in prison for a murder she did not commit, the Illinois Innocence Project said.
On Wednesday, the state vacated Jennifer McMullan's murder conviction and sentence.
The state also presented McMullan with a plea agreement, which allowed her to be released that day with her sentence considered "time served."
"Jennifer has long maintained she is innocent of this crime, and the Illinois Innocence Project knows and believes her to be innocent," said Stephanie Kamel, one of McMullan’s attorneys at IIP. "To be released, she faced an extremely difficult decision – accept a plea to a lesser charge or remain wrongfully imprisoned for years to come. Driving her decision was her father, whose health is deteriorating rapidly due to Alzheimer’s disease."
In March 2001, two masked men attempted to rob a small restaurant in McHenry.
The owner, who was wielding a butcher knife, and his employee chased the men out of the restaurant. During the chase, the owner was shot and killed.
McMullan, who was 19 at the time, was accused and convicted of being the getaway driver.
The Illinois Innocence Project (IIP) said McMullan was "intimidated and coerced into providing a false confession" during the interrogation, and no parent or legal guardian was present during the questioning.
The interrogation also reportedly went on for nearly 15 hours.
"False confessions are a significant cause of wrongful convictions," said Maria de Arteaga, another one of McMullan’s attorneys at IIP. "Jennifer, at a young and vulnerable age, was pressured into giving an unreliable confession that led to her conviction."
During McMullan's trial, the Illinois Innocence Project said that law enforcement "withheld extensive and credible evidence" that implicated an alternate suspect group.
IIP said the alternate suspect group "repeatedly confessed to committing the crime, providing to family, friends and two different police departments critical facts about the crime only the perpetrators would know."
McMullan was convicted of first-degree murder and attempted armed robbery under the "theory of accountability," which means a person can be found guilty of acts committed by others.
She was sentenced to 27 years in prison.
IIP said no physical evidence connected McMullan or her three co-defendants to the crime, and multiple rounds of DNA testing have excluded McMullan and her co-defendants from handling any key pieces of evidence located at the crime scene.
The state prosecuted and convicted Kenneth Smith, one of the co-defendants, as the actual shooter. On May 7, 2021, Smith was released from prison after the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals found the trial evidence failed to support his conviction beyond a reasonable doubt.
While imprisoned, McMullan was one of three inmates chosen to train golden retrievers as therapy comfort dogs for disaster victims.
McMullan is the 20th client of the Illinois Innocence Project to be released or exonerated.