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State’s attorney vacates conviction in 1995 murder

Cook County State’s Attorney AnitAlvarez  announce thher office is dismissing criminal charges against  Alprentiss Nash 37 17-year-old murder

Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez announce that her office is dismissing criminal charges against Alprentiss Nash, 37 in a 17-year-old murder case. Thursday, August 30, 2012 | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

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Updated: October 1, 2012 5:46PM

The Thursday jailhouse phone call began not much different than usual.

“How’s your day going?” the inmate’s attorney, Kathleen Zellner, asked.

“Pretty much like any other day in prison,” replied Alprentiss Nash, a 37-year-old Chicago man who’s spent the last 17 years in prison professing his innocence.

“ ‘Well, you’re going to be a free man tomorrow,’ I told him,” said Zellner. “He just started yelling and shouting and praising God. It was great.”

Nash is expected to walk out of the Menard Correctional Center in downstate Menard at 11 a.m. Friday--a day after prosecutors with Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez’s office went to court and asked a judge to vacate murder charges against him.

Convicted in January 1997 of the 1995 armed robbery and murder of Leon Stroud in his West Pullman home, Nash becomes the first person ever to have his murder conviction overturned solely by that office after a re-investigation by its new Conviction Integrity Unit, which Alvarez created in February.

“The decision to vacate this conviction comes as a result of a comprehensive investigation into the facts of this case,” the state’s attorney said at a news conference, announcing that the unit had reviewed DNA evidence, old court and police records, and even re-interviewed witnesses to arrive at the decision.

“Based upon the new DNA evidence and the collective results of our investigation, it is my assessment that we do not have the evidence that is required to sustain this murder charge,” said Alvarez, who established the six-person unit solely to investigate wrongful conviction claims.

Zellner’s client was arrested and jailed shortly after the April 30, 1995 crime in the 11700 block of South Wentworth; convicted on eyewitness testimony that had been substantially discredited at trial; and sentenced to 80 years.

The killer wore a black ski mask during the crime. One was recovered from a gate post near Stroud’s home. During a post-conviction appeal, Nash, acting as his own attorney, had sought DNA testing of the mask. That was opposed by Alvarez’s office and subsequently dismissed by the Cook County Circuit Courts.

The Illinois Appellate Court later reversed that decision, ordering the DNA testing that in 2010 came back with a genetic profile matching a prison inmate paroled within the last year after serving time on a drug conviction.

“The investigation into the murder of Leon Stroud remains open and will continue,” said Alvarez, confirming her office has interviewed that parolee.

“Today’s action demonstrates the commitment that I made when we began the unit, that we would proactively investigate and review cases that involve possible wrongful or questionable convictions and take action,” Alvarez said.

The unit already has 100 cases, referred by lawyers, families and defendants.

Nationally known for taking such cases — Nash is the 13th wrongfully convicted man she has helped exonerate — Zellner applauded Alvarez.

“It’s courageous of her to do this,” said Zellner. “There are other cases where there’s been DNA results, and different counties still have not acted, or released the person. So we’re extremely excited. Nash is our lucky 13.”

When he walks out Friday, Nash, after his journey, says he’ll harbor no anger.

“Well, I’m shocked,” he said through his lawyer Thursday. “Finally I’m getting justice. But I’m not mad at anybody. I just want to get on with my life.”

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