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Michael Saunders of Englewood Four, who got big settlements after being cleared in 1994 rape-murder, shot to death

He and three others said the Chicago police coerced them to falsely confess, and they were exonerated. He helped other exonerees and planned to go back to school, his lawyer says.

Michael Saunders speaks to reporters after a 2012 hearing for him and three other men whose convictions were overturned in a 1994 rape and murder.
Michael Saunders (right) speaks to reporters after a 2012 hearing for him and three other men whose convictions were overturned in a 1994 rape and murder.
AP

One of the so-called Englewood Four — four men who were convicted and later cleared of the 1994 rape and murder of a woman in that South Side neighborhood — has been shot to death, according to the Cook County medical examiner’s office.

Michael Saunders, 42, of Homer Glen, died of a bullet wound to the head in Calumet Park, according to the agency, which said he was pronounced dead around 3 a.m. Monday and that his death was ruled a homicide.

The circumstances of Saunders’ killing aren’t clear.

Saunders, Vincent Thames, Terrill Swift and Harold Richardson were convicted of the rape and murder of Nina Glover, which happened when they were in their teens.

They said their confessions were coerced by Chicago police detectives. And, in 2011, tests showed that DNA found on Glover’s body matched that of Johnny “Maniac” Douglas, who was one of the first people the police interviewed in Glover’s killing and who later was convicted in another killing. Douglas was shot to death in 2008.

Because of the evidence linking Glover’s killing to Douglas, Cook County Circuit Judge Paul Biebel Jr. vacated the convictions of the Englewood Four. In 2012, they were granted certificates of innocence over prosecutors’ objections.

In 2017, the city of Chicago paid $31 million to settle a wrongful-conviction lawsuit filed by Saunders and the three others.

Two years later, Cook County paid $24 million to settle claims by Saunders, Richardson and Thames. Swift separately settled his case against Cook County for $5.6 million.

On Wednesday, Peter Neufeld, a co-founder of the Innocence Project who was Saunders’ lawyer for his post-conviction case and his lawsuits against the city and county, said, “It’s utterly shocking that this would be the end because everything in his life showed me he was doing so well.”

Saunders was first arrested at 15.

“When he got out, he was still a like teenager, a charming teenager with a sparkle,” Neufeld said.

After prison, Saunders got medical attention for his ailing mother in Milwaukee and stayed with her while she recuperated, Neufeld said.

Saunders invested in other people’s businesses and was planning to return to school, according to Neufeld.

“He was a very effective person in helping other exonerees getting over the difficulty of re-entry,” Neufeld said.

Michael Saunders and Terrill Swift, wrongfully convicted of murder, announcing their wrongful-conviction lawsuit on Nov. 15, 2022, at Northwestern University School of Law.
Michael Saunders (left) and Terrill Swift, wrongfully convicted of murder, announcing their wrongful-conviction lawsuit on Nov. 15, 2022, at Northwestern University School of Law.
John H. White / Sun-Times file