Judge again delays issuing certificates of innocence for 2 Chicago brothers exonerated of murder

Reginald Henderson and his brother, Sean Tyler, spent decades in prison while fighting their murder convictions and claiming they were beaten by Chicago Police detectives.

On Thursday, the pair were disappointed to find out they will have to wait at least a few more months before they learn if a judge will wipe their records clean.

Judge Erica Reddick set hearings for May on whether to grant certificates of innocence in the 1994 murder case that was overturned based on allegations of torture by detectives working under disgraced Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge.

The ruling by Reddick was bitter news for Henderson and Tyler, who both served their entire sentences — more than 25 years each — while motions to overturn their convictions were pending.


In September 2021, after both brothers had been paroled, prosecutors agreed to vacate their convictions, then dropped all charges. But the state’s attorney has opposed granting the two men certificates of innocence, which would formally remove records of their arrest and charges, and entitle them to counseling and a payout of as much as $200,000 from a state fund for people wrongfully convicted.

"When [prosecutors] went before the judge [in 2021] … and dropped all charges, why are we here today?" Henderson said Thursday as he stood with his brother and some two dozen supporters in the lobby of the Leighton Criminal Courthouse.

"If you did what you did on that day, saying we drop all charges, they didn’t have enough evidence to proceed then, why now?"

The hearings set over two days in May will likely take the form of a mini-trial, rehashing the evidence in the shooting death of 10-year-old Rodney Collins, who was struck by a stray bullet fired in a gunfight between rival gangs in the Back of the Yards.

In the years since Tyler and Henderson were put on trial and convicted in the mid-1990s, multiple witnesses have recanted their testimony and, lawyers for the pair point out, dozens of defendants have made similar claims of torture by the detectives who handled the case. Prosecutors have pointed out one woman who told defense lawyers that police told her to identify Tyler and Henderson and paid her $1,100 to move from the neighborhood has since said told investigators that her testimony was true.

Whether lawyers will have to argue about the pair being victims of torture remains to be seen. Lawyers for the brothers said Thursday they would ask Reddick not to require them to prove the detectives in the case, Kenneth Boudreau and James O’Brien, beat the two teenage suspects and instead find that a "pattern and practice" of abuse has been proved over dozens of cases where defendants have made similar claims against the detectives.

In filings in the case, lawyers for Tyler and Henderson claim Boudreau and O’Brien targeted the brothers because Tyler had testified for the defense in the case of 13-year-old Marcus Wiggins, who claimed he confessed to a 1991 murder after he was beaten and shocked by the two detectives and others working for Burge. Tyler had witnessed the shooting, and his testimony led to Wiggins’ confession being barred from the case and leading to his acquittal.

Three years later, Boudreau and O’Brien would arrest Henderson, then 18, and Tyler, 17, for the Rodney Collins’s murder, allegedly pinning the case on the brothers by beating witnesses who identified the brothers and guiding a neighbor who witnessed the shooting to name the pair as suspects.

Henderson claims he was punched repeatedly and left handcuffed in an interrogation room without food or access to a bathroom and eventually signed a confession after more than 48 hours in custody. His brother was arrested the next day and said he also was beaten before confessing.

At each of the brothers’ trials, detectives denied abusing them or other suspects but in the ensuing decades allegations of torture by police who worked under Burge have increasingly been taken as fact by judges in dozens of cases. The state’s Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission in 2020 ruled that Tyler’s claims of abuse were worthy of review by a judge. The commission dismissed a request for review of Henderson’s claims in 2021 because his conviction had been reversed.

The Chicago Police Department moved to fire Burge in 1993. In 2008, he was charged with lying under oath about the abuse of suspects when questioned for lawsuits brought by men claiming they were tortured by Burge or his detectives. Burge was convicted in 2010 and sentenced to more than four years in prison. He died in 2018.