Friday, 9 August 2013
The Story and the Beginning
Johnnie Savory, an African-American, was twice convicted by all-white juries of the murders of teenagers James Robinson, Jr. and Connie Cooper, who were found stabbed to death in their Peoria home on January 18, 1977. The second conviction, which is the only one that matters now, rested primarily on the testimony of three informants who claimed that Savory had talked about committing the crime in their presence. Two of the informants eventually recanted, stating that the conversations in fact had not occurred.
The physical evidence in the case — a bloody pair of pants seized from Savory's home, fingernail scrapings from both victims, head hairs found in the victims' hands and bathroom sink, and a pocket knife with a blood-like stain on it that the prosecution theorized was the murder weapon.
The blood on the pants was of the ABO type shared by Johnnie, one of the victims, and, importantly, Savory's father, who testified that the pants were his. The pants were several sizes too big for Johnnie, and his father had suffered an injury at work consistent with the positioning of the blood. (Actually, the father was treated at a hospital, where there were records that would have corroborated his testimony, but that the defense did not present.)
The fingernail scrapings were said to be of no evidentiary value, and nothing regarding them was presented at the trial. Nor was anything presented regarding the hairs. The knife was entered into evidence, but the stain on it was so minute that it could not be determined whether it was blood. Most if not all of these items should be amenable to DNA testing with today's state-of-the-art technology.
Not only could the requested DNA testing exonerate Savory but it also could identify the real killer of James Robinson and Connie Cooper.
The five former U.S. Attorneys who support Johnnie's request for DNA testing are Samuel K. Skinner, Thomas P. Sullivan, Dan K. Webb, Anton Valukas, and Scott Lassar. They were represented at the press conference by Sullivan, a Jenner & Block partner and chairman of the Advisory Committee of the Center on Wrongful Convictions.
The broad range of the group is perhaps best illustrated by the names of Skinner, who was Secretary of Transportation and White House Chief of Staff under President George H.W. Bush, and Abner J. Mikva, White House Counsel under President Bill Clinton. Among other names indicative of the diversity are those of Noam Chomsky, a retired MIT professor who has characterized his personal visions as "fairly traditional anarchist ones," and Richard A. Epstein, a Distinguished Service Professor of Law at the University of Chicago known for libertarian views. Religious leaders among the signatories include Roman Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, and Greek Orthodox. Among business leaders on the list is Lester Crown, president of Henry Crown & Co.
The 30 former prisoners exonerated by DNA were represented at the press conference by Kenneth Adams, one of the defendants in the Ford Heights Four case. They languished a total of 434 years behind bars for crimes they did not commit. Four of them were on death row — Kirk Bloodsworth, in Maryland, Rolando Cruz, in Illinois, Ray Krone, in Arizona, and Curtis Edward McCarty, in Oklahoma.
The letter to which the exonerated lent their names notes that many of them would still be in prison and some of them might have been executed if they had been denied DNA testing, and ends with a simple plea to the governor on Savory's behalf — "We beseech you to do the right thing."
And today Savory was joined in his quest for DNA testing by a broadly based coalition of supporters — including five former U.S. Attorneys, 30 former prisoners who were exonerated by DNA, authors John Grisham and Studs Terkel, and arrays of business, religious, and civil rights leaders, academics, defense lawyers, and past and present and public officials