Cook county prosecutors announced Tuesday they will not attempt to retry four men of the 1994 rape and murder of a woman in Englewood in a case in which DNA pointed elsewhere.
And Michael Saunders, Harold Richardson, Terrill Swift and Vincent Thames, who gave false confessions as teenagers to raping and killing Nina Glover, now will try as free men to return to some sense of normal.
“I have no idea what normal is, but I’m going to try to figure out what it is,” said Swift, now 34, after the hearing at the Cook County Criminal Courthouse in Chicago, surrounded by the others and their families.
“I wouldn’t lie and say I’m not bitter, but I’m not going to let that bitterness control me and what I’m going to do in the future.”
The convictions were overturned in November after DNA was matched to another man. Prosecutors said they wanted more time to decide whether to proceed with a new trial or drop the charges altogether.
On Tuesday, assistant state’s attorney Mark Ertler told Judge Michael McHale that the state would not retry the men known as the Englewood Four. Ertler did not elaborate or explain.
The courtroom was silent, then as soon as the judge adjourned, the room filled with applause and the sound of back-slapping.
Appearing in dress clothes, none of the four spoke during the hearing. All had already been released from prison.
Swift got out in 2010 after completing 15 years in prison, and Thames in July 2011 after serving 16 years. Richardson and Saunders were released on bail Nov. 18 after their convictions were thrown out.
In 1994, Glover’s body was found in a Dumpster, beaten and strangled to death. The four teenagers confessed to attacking the alleged prostitute. Swift, Richardson and Saunders were convicted and sentenced to between 30 and 40 years in prison.
Thames pleaded guilty and got a 30-year sentence. Last May, DNA found in semen inside Glover’s body matched to Johnny Douglas, a violent felon who was killed in 2008. Douglas had been convicted of a 1997 fatal strangulation of a prostitute.
Swift’s attorney, Joshua Tepfer, compared the case to that of the Dixmoor Five — where five teens confessed to the murder of a 14-year-old girl they did not commit – whose convictions also were overturned in November.
“They have so much in common because confessions from teenagers played a part in all of them, and all of them are absolutely innocent,” he said. “We call on the state’s attorney’s office to not sit on her laurels and examine these cases.
“Something went horribly wrong in these cases, and we need to investigate and find out what happened, so it doesn’t happen again, because an historic nine teenagers had their lives taken from them for far too long.”
Saunders’ eyes were red Tuesday afternoon.
“All I can say is it’s a great day. The judge made the right decision,” the 32-year-old said.
“It’s been a good day today,” echoed Thames, 34.
Thames plans to travel. Since his release in July, he said. “I see my family every day.”
Richardson also has spent these months of freedom with his family “just waiting for this day to come.”
“All I can say is, never take life for granted.”