Mother of Chicago man whose murder conviction was commuted thanks Pritzker: ‘God bless’

Gerald Reed, sentenced to life in prison after being convicted of a double murder in 1990, walked out of Stateville Correctional Center on Friday afternoon. Gov. J.B. Pritzker had commuted Reed’s sentence on Thursday.

SHARE Mother of Chicago man whose murder conviction was commuted thanks Pritzker: ‘God bless’
Gerald Reed and his mother, Armanda Shackelford, after his release from prison Friday.

Gerald Reed and his mother, Armanda Shackelford, after his release from prison Friday.

Tyler LaRiviere / Sun-Times

Gerald Reed’s mother eagerly waited outside Stateville Correctional Center for him to walk out Friday —a day after the governor commuted his life sentence.

Armanda Shackelford said she’s been waiting nearly three decades for her son’s freedom and just wanted to hug him.

“I didn’t think it would ever get here,” Shackelford said as she stood next to Reed’s attorney Elliot Zinger and other supporters. “I didn’t give up.”

Reed was convicted of the fatal shootings of Pamela Powers and Willie Williams in 1990 on the South Side, but has insisted he was tortured and framed by detectives working for disgraced Chicago police Cmdr. Jon Burge. Reed said those detectives beat him so badly they dislodged a metal rod in his leg.

The Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission said the evidence in the case showed the rod was broken at the police station and not beforehand or after he was sent to jail.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker commuted Reed’s life sentence for that double murder to “time served.” The governor’s decision Thursday was based on a petition saying the 57-year-old Reed faced serious health risks from the spread of the coronavirus in prison.

“Mr. Governor, I want to say God bless you and happy Easter,” Shackelford said.

After his mother and his supporters stood for hours outside the prison, Reed was freed late Friday afternoon to cheers. He plans to live with a niece in Naperville.

“If it wasn’t for the community I wouldn’t be out here,” he told reporters. “The system kept saying ‘guilty’ —guilty of what? Standing up against it?”

“I lived in Stateville for 30 years —hard, max penitentiary —but I survived it,” he said.

Reed’s mother said he would soon get to enjoy his favorite foods: lemon meringue pie, pineapple upside-down cake and lasagna.

Reed’s attorneys have said they’ll now turn their attention to trying to have his murder conviction vacated. If that happens, Zinger said he would file a wrongful-conviction lawsuit.

For decades, Burge was accused of overseeing a “midnight crew” that systematically tortured African American suspects. The former Area 2 commander was convicted of perjury in 2010 for lying in civil lawsuits alleging torture.

Burge served a four-year federal prison sentence.

In May 2015, the Chicago City Council voted to pay a total of $5.5 million in reparations to police torture victims from the Burge era. The checks went out the following January, with most victims getting $100,000.

Burge died in September 2018.

In December 2018, Cook County Judge Thomas Gainer Jr. threw out Reed’s oral confession and ordered a new trial. Gainer then retired, and Judge Thomas Hennelly took over the case.

Reed was in the Cook County Jail awaiting his new trial when Hennelly reinstated his conviction in February 2020, ruling that the oral statement used to exonerate Reed was never presented at his original trial.

A special prosecutor had argued for Reed to be held in prison, saying he’d boasted to witnesses about the killings and was linked to the murder weapon through forensic evidence.

On Friday, Reed called the case against him a “lie.”

“I am going to stand up against the system,” he said Friday. “The system is wrong.”

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