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In rare decision, federal appeals court upholds new trial for man convicted of 1996 West Side murder

Julius Evans, 42, is serving a life sentence for the murder of Moatice Williams. An appeals court found a Cook County prosecutor’s closing argument improperly challenged the sole witness’s testimony that he didn’t see Evans shoot Williams.

The Dirksen Federal Courthouse in downtown Chicago.
A three-judge panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago voted 2-1 to uphold a federal judge’s decision to overturn the 1996 murder conviction of Julius Evans, who is serving a life sentence.
Sun-Times file

The federal appeals court in Chicago has upheld a decision granting a new trial for a 42-year-old man serving a life sentence for murder.

Julius Evans was convicted of killing Moatice Williams in a drive-by shooting on Aug. 23, 1996, in the 3800 block of West Washington Avenue.

In a rare opinion, a three-judge panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals voted 2-1 Wednesday to uphold a federal judge’s decision to overturn Evans’ conviction in state court.

“Here they concluded what the state court did was not reasonable based on the prosecutor’s misconduct in the closing arguments,” said Evans’ attorney Mark Schneider, a partner in the law firm Kirkland & Ellis, which represented Evans for free.

Julius Evans, who is serving a life sentence for a 1996 murder, was granted a new trial by the federal appeals court in Chicago.
Julius Evans, who is serving a life sentence for a 1996 murder, was granted a new trial by the federal appeals court in Chicago.
Illinois Department of Corrections

Evans and two other men were charged in Williams’ murder. One of Evans’ co-defendants was acquitted in a trial, and the charges were dismissed against the other man.

The case against Evans was based a single witness, Andrew Jeffers, who was on the sidewalk at the scene of the shooting. Initially, Jeffers gave police a general description of the shooter, but almost a year later when he was in prison for an unrelated case, Chicago police detectives approached him and he identified Evans as the shooter.

At Evans’ trial, though, Jeffers recanted his identification.

A prosecutor questioned Jeffers about why he changed his story, suggesting it was because Jeffers was intimidated by an investigator working for one of Evans’ co-defendants.

Mark Schneider, the attorney who represented Julius Evans in his habeus corpus petition.
Mark Schneider, the attorney who represented Julius Evans in his habeus corpus petition.
Kirkland & Ellis LLP

The majority of the three-judge appeals court panel concluded that Jeffers didn’t clearly acknowledge he was even visited by the investigator.

A state appeals court had found the Cook County prosecutor’s line of questioning about Jeffers’ recantation was proper, but U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer disagreed, and in 2019, she granted vacated Evans’ conviction and granted him a new trial. The appeals court affirmed Pallmeyer’s ruling.

It’s unclear whether Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the 7th Circuit’s decision — or whether Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx will choose to retry Evans. But that could be difficult, considering that Pallmeyer, in her ruling, noted “the state has admitted that it lost all trial exhibits.”