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Judge throws out conviction in murder that made headlines in 1980

It was a killing that made headlines in Chicago’s newspapers in 1980: a 20-year-old woman fatally stabbed in the Back of the Yards neighborhood.

Daniel Andersen was convicted of attempted rape and murder in the slaying of his childhood friend, Cathy Trunko, and spent more than 27 years behind bars. But he continued to work to clear his name after he was released from prison in 2007.

And on Monday, Andersen won a major legal victory when Cook County Judge Alfredo Maldonado vacated Andersen’s conviction and ordered a new trial based on DNA test results.

“It is probable that the DNA results would change the outcome of a new trial,” Maldonado wrote in his ruling.

Prosecutors are “evaluating today’s ruling and have not yet determined our position moving forward,” said Sally Daly, a spokeswoman for Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez.

According to court records, Chicago Police officers recovered a knife a block from the scene of the Jan. 19, 1980 killing in the 4900 block of South Paulina.

Andersen, then 19, confessed to using the 8-inch knife to kill Trunko, but during his trial he said police beat him into confessing. A friend also gave him an alibi.

At his sentencing, Andersen told the judge: “I am innocent. I didn’t kill that girl.”

According to his attorneys, new DNA testing showed blood on the knife was not the victim’s. DNA evidence under her fingernails also excluded Andersen, the attorneys said.

Monday’s ruling was important because his conviction continues to hinder the 54-year-old Andersen’s ability to find a job and housing — and he has still been required to register as a sex offender.

According to a statement from the attorneys, Andersen wept with joy when Maldonado issued his ruling. He was represented by the Northwestern University School of Law’s Center on Wrongful Conviction of Youth, as well as the Exoneration Project.

In his ruling, Maldonado said the evidence strongly indicated Trunko fought her attacker. Blood underneath her fingernails pointed to a struggle, he said.

But DNA testing revealed two different male profiles under Trunko’s fingernails, and neither was linked to Andersen, the judge wrote.

Maldonado said he disagreed with prosecutors that the DNA could have been under her fingernails long before the murder.

He called Andersen’s exclusion as a source of the DNA “an extraordinary compelling fact that casts doubt on his involvement in the victim’s death.”

The knife was the “linchpin” of the state’s case against Andersen, but the DNA tests undermined the theory that it was the murder weapon, the judge added.

According to a Chicago Sun-Times story about Andersen’s 1982 trial, Trunko was a Daley College student who wanted to be a teacher. She and Andersen knew each other about 12 years, and he was the last person to sign one of the registers at her wake.  They grew up blocks from each other — and his parents even lived in her house once.

Andersen now lives Downstate in a Christian ministry shelter and provides guidance to people who are re-entering society after prison, said Joshua Tepfer, one of his lawyers. He also worked construction and landscaping jobs to make ends meet, Tepfer said.

Often, he would lose his job when his employer learned of his background, Tepfer said.

He said he would “move immediately” to have the Illinois State Police remove Andersen from registries for sex offenders and murderers.

“He’s been dealt a really bad hand, but he’s been patient and hopeful,” Tepfer said. “This ruling offers him a new lease on life.”