Sunday, June 19, 2005

Riley Fox – Another blow to the Illinois Criminal Justice System

And so, after months of delay, the DNA test comes back negative – it was not Kevin Fox’s DNA on the Duct Tape after all. It’s another black eye for prosecutors here in Illinois. They were “sure they had their man”. They were “confident” that the evidence would support their case.

I’ve written about this case before; here, here. and here. I wrote about how much this case reminded me of the Jeanine Nicarico – Rolando Cruz fiasco. In that case, Prosecutors were so sure that Cruz was the guilty one, they foreclosed all other possible leads. They ignored evidence, including a confession, which pointed to Brian Dugan as Jeanine’s real killer. Even after DNA evidence excluded Cruz and implicated Dugan, they still prosecuted Cruz.

At least in this case, once prosecutors had the DNA results in their hands, they released Kevin Fox. But there are still important, unresolved issues here;

Prosecutors say Kevin Fox confessed to the killing, but Fox says the confession was coerced. I have to believe it was because they let him go. This brings up, again, the issue of how reliable confessions really are, especially when they’re not taped and not subject to any independent review. It points, again, to the bias that prosecutors have towards getting a conviction when they, and everyone else in the court system, should have a bias towards finding justice.

An ABC news story on June 17th said that “All the investigators who originally looked into the murder have reportedly been reassigned.” The current county prosecutor blames his predecessor for the mistakes (totally ignoring the fact that he, himself let the DNA in this case sit for many months). So, once again there’s no accountability for those who put an innocent man in jail.

And, most importantly, why does it take so long to have a DNA test done in a criminal case anyway? You can get a DNA test to establish paternity in just a few days, from multiple privately-run laboratories. As a side note, the DNA testing in this case had to be turned over to a private lab when the FBI lab proved unable to get it done in a timely fashion. And how long it takes to do a test is important, or it should be. Because of this delay, two really bad things happened here. First an innocent man spent 8 months in jail. And second, police and prosecutors have to start their investigations all over again, and this time on a trail that is over a year old. What if this maniac has struck again while Kevin Fox languished in jail?

I have a suggestion. They should turn over the DNA to another lab, just to confirm the results. Yes, Kevin Fox is probably innocent. But let’s make really sure.

I wish the prosecutors and police luck in finding the killer, I truly do. But their delay has made it harder on themselves and has shown, once again, that the Illinois Criminal Justice system is nothing to be proud of.

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