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article imageIllinois AG Burris Sought Death Penalty For Innocent Man

By Dave Giza     Jan 1, 2009 in Politics
Embattled Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich has appointed former Attorney General Roland Burris to fill President-Elect Barack Obama's vacant Senate seat. While Illinois Attorney General in 1992, Burris sought the death penalty for an innocent man.
Roland Burris has been involved in plenty of controversy just like the man who appointed him to the U.S. Senate. While Attorney General in 1992, Burris continually tried to seek the death penalty for Rolando Cruz despite evidence to the contrary.
Cruz was twice convicted of raping and murdering a 10-year-old girl from the Chicago suburb of Naperville in 1983. By 1992, Brian Dugan, a multiple sex offender and murderer, confessed to the crime. At that time, the case was on appeal before the Illinois Supreme Court. Deputy attorney general Mary Brigid Kenney pleaded with Burris to drop the case against Cruz but he refused to do so. Burris was running for governor at the time.
Burris assigned Kenney to the case in 1991. She believed that Cruz was a victim of prosecutorial misconduct. ProPublica interviewed Kenney about the Cruz case: ''She sent Burris a memo reporting that the jury convicted Cruz without knowing that Brian Dugan, a repeat sex offender and murderer, had confessed to the crime. Burris never met with Kenney to discuss a new trial.''
Kenney resigned her post over this and is now an assistant public guardian for Cook County, Illinois. She refused to argue Burris' case before the state supreme court.
She wasn't the only person involved in the case who smelled something fishy. Prior to Cruz' original trial in 1985, the lead detective in the case resigned over how the prosecutor's were handling it.
Kenney believed that Burris was trying to appeal to the public in 1992 by being tough on crime for his gubernatorial bid. ProPublica quotes Kenney from her resignation letter: ''I cannot sit idly by as this office continues to pursue the unjust prosecution of Rolando Cruz. I realized that I was being asked to help execute an innocent man.''
Burris responded at the time that it wasn't his place to interfere with a jury regardless of what he personally thought about the case. State prosecutors continued with the case against Cruz despite DNA evidence linking Brian Dugan as the victim's rapist.
After Cruz's two convictions, the Illinois Supreme Court reversed itself and granted him a third trial. The second conviction was overturned because the Supreme Court determined that the trial judge improperly excluded Dugan's confession to the crime. The jury didn't have knowledge of Dugan's confession during the second trial. Cruz was acquitted in the third trial.
Cruz was finally allowed to walk free in late 1995 after serving 11 years on death row for a crime that he didn't commit.
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