State Supreme Court rules man who pleaded guilty to murder he didn’t commit can get certificate of innocence

The ruling comes weeks after Wayne Washington and a co-defendant settled a lawsuit against the city and the Chicago Police Department.

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A judge’s gavel

The Illinois Supreme Court unanimously ruled that Wayne Washington could be granted a certificate of innocence after he was wrongfully convicted of a 1993 murder, even though he had entered a guilty plea in the case.

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The Illinois Supreme Court has ruled that a man who pleaded guilty to a murder he did not commit is eligible for a certificate of innocence that formally recognizes he was wrongfully convicted.

The unanimous opinion last week comes less than a month after Wayne Washington reached a multimillion dollar settlement in a lawsuit alleging he was framed by detectives.

Washington, 50, served more than 12 years in prison for the 1993 murder of college basketball standout Marshall Morgan Jr., a crime he had confessed to at 19 after he was beaten by detectives connected to former Chicago Police Department Cmdr. Jon Burge.

Washington recanted the confession at his trial, which ended with a hung jury. But when his co-defendant, Tyrone Hood, was convicted in a bench trial and sentenced to 75 years in prison, Washington opted to take a plea deal that would get him out of prison while he was still in his 30s.

Washington claimed he was beaten by detectives during an interrogation that spanned two days and signed a prewritten confession because “he couldn’t stand the beatings any longer.”

After the stress of his trial and hung jury, Washington said he signed the guilty plea because he feared spending the rest of his life in prison.

“When the deal for 25 years was offered to me, I calculated, with the time I had served in the Cook County Department of Corrections, I would be 32 years old when I came home,” he testified in a civil deposition. “I still had a chance at a life. So I weighed out my options, and I felt like that 25 years was the lesser of two evils.”

In a 7-0 ruling, with three justices joining a special concurrence, the Supreme Court ruled that Washington’s guilty plea did not disqualify him from receiving a certificate of innocence that would purge his record and entitle him to compensation from a fund for the wrongfully convicted.

In June, Washington and Hood reached a “seven-figure” settlement of the lawsuit filed against the Chicago Police Department and the city, Washington’s lawyer said .

“Wayne is ecstatic, first and foremost, that the city recognizes what was done to him was wrong,” attorney Steve Greenberg said. “No amount of money will every give him back all of the years that he lost and all of the memories that he missed out on.”

Washington served out his full sentence, and after his release in 2008 struggled to get low-wage jobs because of the murder conviction on his record.

His job prospects didn’t improve much even after the New Yorker published a lengthy investigation of the case against him and Hood that persuaded prosecutors to vacate both men’s convictions — and once again drew attention to Washington’s history.

The 2014 article pointed the finger at the murder victim’s father, who had been completely absent from his son’s life until the year before his death and had taken out a $44,000 life insurance policy on his son.

Because Washington had pleaded guilty, Judge Domenica Stephenson denied his petition for a certificate of innocence.

Hood, whose sentence was commuted by Gov. Pat Quinn before the state dropped the case against him, was granted a certificate of innocence in 2021.

Nearly 80 other people who had pleaded guilty in wrongful conviction cases had been granted certificates, Washington’s lawyers found.

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