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Convictions of four men thrown out in 1994 prostitute murder

This undated phoprovided by Illinois Department Corrections shows inmate Terrill Swift.  (AP Photo/Illinois Department Corrections)

This undated photo provided by the Illinois Department of Corrections shows inmate Terrill Swift. (AP Photo/Illinois Department of Corrections)

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Updated: December 18, 2011 5:21PM

Terrill Swift had no elaborate plans for celebrating after a Cook County judge overturned his and three others’ convictions for a 1994 murder and rape they say they didn’t commit.

But he did plan to celebrate in his own way.

“I may just take walk, something real simple,” the 34-year-old criminal justice student from Woodridge said following Wednesday’s hearing.

Swift, who was released from prison in 2010 after serving 15 years for the strangulation, realizes he’s not out of the woods yet since Criminal Court Presiding Judge Paul Biebel Jr. ordered a new trial for him and the others.

But now that Biebel has acknowledged recent tests linking a dead felon’s DNA to Nina Glover’s body, Swift is hopeful he and his three co-defendants will soon have their names cleared.

“It was a step in the right direction,” Swift said.

“It’s been rough since I’ve been out [in the community]. At times, it’s worse being out when you’re labeled as a sex offender. You can’t pretty much breathe and now I’m able to breathe again.”

Vincent Thames, 34, of Paducah, Kentucky, said he felt an immense feeling of joy when Biebel vacated the convictions. In court, as dozens of lawyers, family and friends looked on, cheered and cried, Thames assured the two other men who remain behind bars that they’d soon be free.

“I just gave them all hugs and let them know everything would be okay,” said Thames, who was released in July after 16 years in prison.

Biebel ordered Michael Saunders and Harold Richardson held in lieu of $50,000 bail. Both men, who were serving time in Statesville Prison for the Nov. 7, 1994, slaying of the 30-year-old prostitute, will post bond and be released within 24 hours, their attorneys hoped.

Biebel said while the four men had all given handwritten statements, he could not deny that only habitual criminal Johnny Douglas’ semen was traced on Glover’s body.

Douglas, now dead, was convicted of a similar murder in 1997 and was suspected in other murders and sexual assaults. He was never charged with Glover’s murder.

Although Douglas denied knowing Glover, he was on the scene when her naked body was recovered from a dumpster in Englewood, Biebel said.

The four accused men — teenagers in 1994 — were coerced into confessing to the murder, each giving very different accounts of the crime, according to Swift’s attorney Steven Drizin.

“How many other black and brown Chicago teenagers will be forced to falsely confess to crimes they didn’t commit,” said Drizin of Northwestern University’s new Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth.

“It keeps me up at night when I think of this. It should cause you to lose sleep as well.”

Saunders’ lawyer said that if State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez is as concerned about victims as she says she is, she should drop all charges when the case comes back to court on Nov. 28.

“After this ruling, there is no case,” said Peter Neufeld, co-director of the New York-based Innocence Project. “She should end this torture. ... Let them go home. They’re victims.”

State’s attorney spokesman Andy Conklin said the office is reviewing the judge’s decision.

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