She’s been waiting 25 years for justice.
For Theresa Matthews, that day will come on Thursday.
She plans to sit in the front row of a courtroom in south suburban Markham where Willie Randolph, a career criminal accused of killing her teenage daughter, will appear before a judge for the first time in the notorious 1991 case.
“I want to be up front so I can see him,” Matthews said. “I want to see his face. I thank God that it’s happening, because I just want justice for my child. She had dreams. She wanted to be somebody in life.”
Her daughter, Cateresa Matthews, was just 14 when Randolph allegedly kidnapped her at a bus stop, drove her to a grassy area near Interstate 57, shot her in the mouth and left her dead.
Five innocent teenagers were originally convicted in a botched investigation conducted by the Illinois State Police and Dixmoor Police. They all went to prison.
But two decades after Cateresa’s murder — in March 2011 — Randolph was identified as the alleged killer. Attorneys for the “Dixmoor Five” pushed for new DNA testing, and Randolph was linked to semen found on the girl’s body, court records show.
The Dixmoor Five were cleared in Cateresa’s killing. They sued the Illinois State Police and Dixmoor Police for the years they spent behind bars and settled with the state for $40 million, considered a record for wrongful conviction cases in Illinois.
In 2014, the Cook County Sheriff’s office launched a re-investigation of the murder case, starting with the DNA evidence against Randolph. It took until now to obtain a murder charge against him because prosecutors demanded additional evidence. That includes details of the crime that Randolph allegedly revealed to witnesses during the sheriff’s probe, a law enforcement source said.
“It’s so rare that after these wrongful convictions that the true offender is found, that justice can occur after all these years,” said Cara Smith, policy chief for Sheriff Tom Dart.
Randolph is expected to appear at a bond hearing on a murder charge Thursday. He will be transported to court from Stateville Correctional Center, where he is currently serving a three-year sentence for drug possession.
In that case, Chicago Police officers arrested him for possession of three Ziploc baggies of crack cocaine on April 11, 2011, less than a month after DNA linked him to Cateresa’s sexual assault. He is scheduled for parole on Sept. 17.
Randolph, 58, has been in and out of prison for most of his adult life.
In 1977, he pleaded guilty to rape. At the time of Cateresa’s death in 1991, he was a 33-year-old on parole for armed robbery and living in her grandmother’s neighborhood in Dixmoor, a tiny village of about 400 people in the south suburbs.
Cateresa went missing on Nov. 19, 1991, after she called her mother from her grandmother’s home in Dixmoor. Her routine was to have dinner with her grandmother after school, then take a bus home to the nearby city of Harvey.
Authorities believe Randolph kidnapped Cateresa while she was waiting for the bus. He allegedly drove her in a car to the area near Interstate 57 where her body was found.
On Nov. 22, 1991, someone made a 911 call alerting police about a body near Frank’s Pizza House, a restaurant near the murder scene. But police didn’t locate Cateresa’s body at the time. Randolph is believed to be the caller, a law enforcement source says.
Cateresa’s body was discovered a few weeks later on Dec. 8, 1991. A .25-caliber bullet casing was found nearby.
For years, Cateresa’s mother was unable to visit her grave. Her grief simply overwhelmed her.
“I started going out there this year,” Matthews said. “I talk to her and tell her we always loved our baby. I don’t know if I would have been a grandmother by now.”
Cateresa was a whiz at math and wanted to become an accountant. She was looking forward to her eighth-grade graduation, including the fancy clothes she planned to buy, the limousine she planned to ride in, and the pageantry of it all.
“She liked money and she liked to shop. She liked to have clothes and have her hair done. There wasn’t anything she didn’t have. She had it all,” her mother said.
Now that Randolph is facing a murder charge in Cateresa’s killing, her mother plans to attend every one of his hearings — no matter how painful they will be.
“I have to do it for my daughter,” Matthews said.
She’s done it before.
More than two decades ago, she suffered through the trial of three of the teenage Dixmoor Five defendants.
Two of the teens, Robert Veal and Shainne Sharp, agreed to testify against their codefendants, Robert Taylor, Jonathan Barr and James Harden, in exchange for reduced 20-year sentences. Taylor, Barr and Harden all got more than 80 years in prison.
Taylor, Barr and Harden were freed from prison in November 2011. Veal and Sharp had already completed their sentences.
The wrongful conviction lawsuit on behalf of the Dixmoor Five claimed that police coerced a confession from Veal, who was 15 at the time of his arrest and had a low IQ. Police also fed Veal “non-public” information about the crime, such as the fact that Cateresa was wearing a Chicago Bulls jacket, the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit said Cook County prosecutors ignored major conflicts in statements the defendants gave about the crime. Assistant Cook County State’s Attorney Robert Milan prepared the handwritten statements of Veal, Taylor and Sharp, the lawsuit said. He later became a top aide to Cook County State’s Attorney Richard Devine, who retired in 2008.
Milan ran for Devine’s seat, but lost to current Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, another top prosecutor in Devine’s office. In 2012, Alvarez formed the Conviction Integrity Unit, which has been working with the sheriff’s office in the re-investigation of Cateresa’s death.