State’s Attorney drops charges against 2 men in 1994 murder

SHARE State’s Attorney drops charges against 2 men in 1994 murder

Nevest Coleman (left) and Darryl Fulton | Illinois Dept. of Corrections

Cook County prosecutors Friday dropped murder and rape charges against two men who had spent more than two decades in prison for the crimes before DNA evidence pointed to another suspect.

The move by prosecutors came as a shock to Nevest Coleman and Darryl Fulton, who are still getting used to freedom after being released from prison —on bond—last week after Judge Dennis Porter agreed to grant the two men a new trial for the 1994 rape and murder of Antwinica Bridgeman.

Friday, after prosecutors announced they would not again bring charges against the pair, Porter sent Coleman and Fulton home for good.

“I didn’t consider myself a free man until today,” Coleman said. “Until (Porter) told me ‘That’s it. You can go,’ it didn’t seem real.

“I always knew I was coming home. I just didn’t think it would come this fast.”

Fast is a relative term for the pair, who spent 23 years in prison before DNA evidence showed neither man was the source of DNA found in semen stains on Bridgeman’s clothing.

Lawyers from the Exoneration Project at University of Chicago Law School this summer filed a motion to overturn their convictions, and attorney Russell Ainsworth on Friday said State’s Attorney Kim Foxx acted fairly swiftly.

Porter let the two men go free on recognizance bonds —with the support of the State’s Attorney’s Office —while the office’s Conviction Integrity Unit reviewed the new evidence.

Prosecutors in November said they planned to wait on results from a final round of testing, which arrived this week, Ainsworth said.

“Now that DNA testing is complete, and in light of all available evidence, the State’s Attorney’s Office has concluded that it will not proceed with a retrial of either Mr. Fulton or Mr. Coleman because it would be unable to meet its burden of proof,” spokesman Robert Foley said in a statement.

As Coleman and Fulton’s lawyers had contended, the DNA pointed to a man identified in a law enforcement database with multiple rape convictions.

While evidence weighed in prosecutors’ decision to drop the charges against Fulton and Coleman, the office also concluded that there is not enough evidence to bring charges against the man whose DNA was identified by the testing, Foley said.

The DNA evidence, gathered from beneath Bridgeman’s fingernails as well as stains on her underwear and sweater, had not been tested when the men were on trial in the mid-1990s.

Recent test results ruled out Fulton, Coleman and a third man who was detained by police but never charged.

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