A Cook County judge granted a new trial Thursday for a man who has spent over two decades in prison for a drug-related double murder that his lawyers say he didn’t commit.
Judge Alfredo Maldonado concluded in his 23-page ruling that Edward Bolden had a “substantial deprivation of constitutional rights” following his arrest for the Jan. 29, 1994, crimes.
Maldonado, echoing the Appellate Court, noted how the prosecution’s evidence based on a sole witness — the wounded brother of one of the dead victims — was “far from overwhelming” due to his “substantial problematic identification” and the lack of any other evidence connecting Bolden to the murders.
The judge also criticized Bolden’s then assistant public defender for ineffective counsel for not trying to locate a key alibi witness.
At least three people said they saw Bolden playing video games at the J & J Fish restaurant, at 64th and Cottage Grove, before and during the shootings, Bolden’s attorneys argued during evidentiary hearings in November.
The trio — Octavia Jackson, Vondell Goins and Todd Henderson — testified that they were never contacted by authorities until 2012.
Jackson and Goins’ accounts may have been imperfect but Henderson’s recent testimony was “entirely credible and unimpeached,” Maldonado wrote.
Maldonado suggested had Henderson testified during the 1996 trial, Bolden might have been acquitted of murdering Irving Clayton and Derrick Frazier.
“Upon a thorough examination of the trial record, this court determines that the evidence against petitioner was slight, and given the potential testimony which could have been provided by Henderson, but for counsel’s failure to contact and interview Henderson, there is a reasonable probability that the outcome of petitioner’s trial could have been different,” Maldonado wrote.
“Accordingly, prejudice inured due to trial counsel’s deficient performance as to investigating and procuring testimony of Todd Henderson.”
Prosecutors have 30 days to appeal Maldonado’s ruling.
State’s Attorney’s Office spokesman Steve Campbell said no decisions have been made, and prosecutors will be evaluating their options in light of the new development in Bolden’s case.
Bolden, now 46, will be back in court Feb. 16.
Bolden was sentenced to life in prison for the murders of Clayton and Frazier, who were found in a burning car near 66th and Minerva.
The men were gunned down in a drug deal gone bad.
Bolden was also convicted of the attempted murder of Frazier’s brother, Clifford Frazier, who was also shot in the vicinity that day and fingered Bolden as the gunman.