Wrongfully convicted man, Mark Maxson, joins 21st century

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Mark Maxson and his mother, Almeater Maxson, at his lawyer Elliott Zinger’s office. | Frank Main/Sun-Times

Mark Maxson was unable to attend the funerals of his two brothers.

He never touched a laptop computer or a cellphone.

And his only window to the world was a TV and a radio that his mother bought for him.

Maxson, 55, who spent 22 years in Stateville Correctional Center and almost three years before that in Cook County Jail, was freed last week after DNA linked another man, Osborne Wade, to the 1992 killing of 6-year-old Lindsey Murdock.

Wade, who allegedly confessed and wrote apology letters to Maxson and Lindsey’s family, was charged with murder last week.

Maxson walked out of prison on Sept. 27 in a navy blue sweat suit issued by the state. He had $57 in his pocket — the money left in his commissary fund.

Now, he is trying to get oriented to the 21st century, including his new mobile phone. 

“I have a phone, but I can’t answer it,” he said. “I’m learning how to turn it on.”

He said now-retired detectives who investigated his case beat him into a confession, pointing out that at least some of them once worked for former police Cmdr. Jon Burge, who went to prison for lying about his involvement in torture.

“They laughed at me and probably assumed I would never get out,” he said. “There’s no excuse for them, period. They shouldn’t be able to keep their pensions.”

Maxson, who describes himself a devout Muslim, said he plans to stay out of trouble and take care of his ailing mother, Almeater Maxson, a nurse who lives in south suburban Lansing.

“After the sun goes down, I’m going to be at home,” he said.

Mark Maxson with attorney Larry Dreyfus (left) and Elliot Zinger (right) with Maxson’s advocate Wallace “Gator” Bradley (far right) after Maxson was released from prison on Tuesday, Sept. 27. | Provided photo

Mark Maxson with attorney Larry Dreyfus (left) and Elliot Zinger (right) with Maxson’s advocate Wallace “Gator” Bradley (far right) after Maxson was released from prison on Tuesday, Sept. 27. | Provided photo

Accompanied by his mother, and still wearing his prison-issue sweats, he dined on prime rib and lobster at Lawry’s restaurant in downtown Chicago the day of his release. His attorneys, Elliot Zinger and Larry Dreyfus, joined them at the table.

“All we want to do is put this behind us,” his mother said. “He will need help. He will need counseling.”

During his recent interview at Zinger’s office, Maxson, who shed his prison clothes for modern duds he bought at a suburban mall, was soft-spoken.

He rarely raised his voice while he recalled getting arrested in 1992 after telling a TV reporter he bought potato chips for Lindsey at a Far South Side liquor store and told the little boy to go home.

The next day, Lindsey was found dead in an abandoned garage — and detectives zeroed in on Maxson as their main suspect.

Police said Maxson confessed, but no physical evidence tied him to the crime. Blood evidence, in fact, excluded him. But a jury convicted Maxson anyway. At his sentencing, he told Cook County Judge Daniel Locallo he was innocent, but Locallo sent him to prison for life, saying he was “malignant.”

Maxson, whose freedom stems from a “pro se” petition he filed on his own, thanked his attorneys who later joined the case. He also gave a nod to Cook County Judge Thaddeus Wilson, who ordered his release, and Wallace “Gator” Bradley, an advocate.

Dreyfus, who came out of retirement in New Mexico to take Maxson’s case, praised Wilson for “exercising his discretion to make sure Mr. Maxson got his chance.”

Dreyfus said the judge even threatened Chicago Police officers and an Illinois State Police laboratory technician with contempt of court for months-long delays in getting the crime-scene evidence to the state lab and testing it.

“You could see he was very emotionally involved in the case,” Dreyfus said.

On Friday, Dreyfus and Zinger filed a wrongful conviction lawsuit against the city in U.S. District Court, seeking $36 million in compensatory damages and another $18 million in punitive damages for Maxson.

The lawsuit named retired detectives John Duffy, William Marley and Angelo Pesavento. A fourth defendant died in 2013, records show. Marley declined comment; Duffy and Pesavento could not be reached.

Maxson is the 15th person whose conviction has been vacated after a review by the Cook County state’s attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unit, formed in 2012.

The former construction worker said he’s not accustomed to the attention he’s been getting since his release. The staff at Lawry’s restaurant treated him like a star, his attorneys say. And people on the street recognize him and have been stopping him to chat.

“People are coming up to me and saying, ‘Congratulations, good luck,’” Maxson said. “I tell them, ‘I need it.’”

An earlier version of this story incorrectly said Locallo served as an expert witness in Burge’s criminal trial. Burge planned to call Locallo as an expert on the law, but Locallo was barred from testifying.

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