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Man who served 20 years for murder he says was self-defense won’t be retried: 'Not a shred of evidence' intact
Stacy St. Clair, Jeff Coen
In the months since his release from prison, Terrence Haynes usually found himself lying awake at night wondering whether he might be retried for murder and ordered back to a life of incarceration.
Back to a life of limited sunshine, timed showers and menial jobs. Back to missing his family, staring at cinder block walls and having no free will.
Haynes endured that existence for 20 years, convicted of a first-degree murder that he always insisted was self-defense. A state appellate court agreed there were enough problems with the prosecution’s original case to overturn his conviction last year and order a new trial.
On Monday Haynes walked into the Kankakee County courthouse to learn whether he would have to face a jury again. Wearing a new charcoal-colored suit he bought on Saturday in case he needed it for the trial slated to begin next week, he didn’t have to wait long for an answer.
Just steps into the ornate rotunda, his attorney Shawn Barnett delivered the news. Prosecutors had decided the case against him was too weak to proceed, and in fact, “not a shred of evidence” remained intact from the first trial.
For the first time in two decades, Terrence Haynes was truly a free man.
“You never have to worry about this again,” Barnett told him.
A wide smile spread across Haynes’ face and he wiped his mouth with his hand. Tears welled in his eyes as he looked back toward the building’s security entrance.
“Is my mom here?” he said.
Kankakee County State’s Attorney Jim Rowe filed paperwork Monday to formally dismiss the charges against Haynes in the 1999 shooting death of 18-year-old Cezaire Murrell. The Tribune profiled Haynes and raised questions about the troubled case against him earlier this year, detailing how the state’s star witness — an 11-year-old boy who was the first cousin of one of the prosecutors — had recanted his testimony and claimed he was encouraged to lie on the stand.
Rowe called the case and its circumstances unique, saying it may be unprecedented for officials in the county prosecutor’s office to drop a first-degree murder case outright after a successful appeal.
“I don’t know if this has ever happened in the county’s history,” said Rowe, who said he personally took part in an effort with a Kankakee police officer to investigate the case again and re-interview witnesses with “a fresh set of eyes.”
The prosecutor’s motion left no doubt about the results of that review.
“Quite simply, the evidence in this case as it exists in 2019 is poles apart from what was presented to the jury in 2000,” stated the filing by Rowe, who was not in office at the time the original case was brought. “The new evidence no longer points to a charge of murder and the state would not be serving the ends of justice if it pursued same under the facts as they now exist.”
Kankakee County Judge Kathy Bradshaw-Elliott, who once sentenced Haynes to 45 years in prison and routinely rejected his post-conviction motions, did not address Haynes during the brief hearing, simply stating the case would be removed from her docket.
Haynes’ mother, Gail Gray, arrived in the courtroom just minutes before Rowe told the judge of his decision. Gray leaned forward to hear him, then bowed her head and clenched her first as her son’s freedom was restored.
“I had hoped and I had prayed,” she said afterward. “I didn’t know what was going to happen today, but I always had hope.”
Outside the courtroom, Rowe approached Haynes and shook his hand. The prosecutor handed Haynes his business card with a personal phone number scribbled on the back. He offered to help Haynes find a job.
“A lot of prosecutors would just try the case again to secure the conviction,” Barnett said. “I’m glad the state’s attorney did his job and saw that justice was done.”
But Kenneth Murrell, the older brother of the teen who was killed in the shooting, blasted the prosecutor’s decision, saying the case reflects a corrupt legal system that often leads to street justice.
His family, he said, had not learned of the decision until contacted by the Tribune on Monday morning.
“It’s ridiculous,” said Kenneth Murrell, who currently is being prosecuted by Rowe’s office for alleged drug dealing. ”Someone got killed and they just drop the charges like that. Justice was not served.”
According to police reports, Cezaire Murrell confronted Haynes several times in May 1999 over money Haynes’ cousin owed Murrell. After a few skirmishes, he found Haynes at his friend Gary Hammond’s house, where he sat on a small porch, just four blocks from then-Gov. George Ryan’s Kankakee red brick home. Murrell stood on the sidewalk, shouting at Haynes and flashing a gun tucked into his waistband, according to witness statements to police.
Onlookers tried to calm Murrell, but he kept shouting about wanting to kill Haynes and began moving toward the porch. Haynes said he grabbed a gun that Hammond had hidden nearby and started to back up. When his back hit the wall of the house, Haynes said he realized he was trapped.
Haynes said he saw Murrell reach for his gun as he approached the porch steps. Haynes closed his eyes and fired the gun twice, hitting Murrell in the chest and shoulder, court records show. Murrell died later at a hospital.
The seventh of nine children, Murrell attended Kankakee High School and worked part time as a janitor before his death. He liked karate and dreamed of working in the publishing industry someday, his older brother said.
“He had a promising life ahead of him,” Kenneth Murrell said. “He was about to finish school. His mind and his heart were positive. He could have done great things.”
Haynes, then 22, was arrested and charged with first-degree murder.
Three adult witnesses told police that Cezaire Murrell was armed when he threatened and approached Haynes, records show.
Instead, prosecutors made 11-year-old Marcus Hammond their star witness. The boy, who had known Haynes his entire life, told the jury he saw Murrell approach the porch and Haynes open fire. Haynes, he testified, was the only person with a gun in his hand.
Based on Marcus’ testimony, prosecutors would claim eight times in closing arguments that Haynes shot an “unarmed” man, records show. The jury believed the state’s version of events and convicted Haynes of first-degree murder.
In prison, Haynes aligned himself with prisoners who understood the legal system and began filing a series of appeals with their help. Haynes became something of a jailhouse lawyer, drawing inspiration from those whose convictions were being overturned because their cases were connected to disgraced Chicago police Cmdr. Jon Burge.
He challenged his conviction a dozen times over the next 15 years, frequently winning key motions but always falling short of getting the case overturned. In 2008, for example, he learned about Marcus Hammond’s connection to Kankakee County Assistant State’s Attorney Michael Jeneary, one of the two prosecutors on the trial. Making the decision not to disclose the relationship to the defense, Jeneary prepared his young cousin for the witness stand and was in the courtroom when he testified, court records show.
An appellate court ruled it was a serious error, but not egregious enough to warrant a new trial.
But when Hammond took back his testimony a short time later and signed an affidavit saying prosecutors discouraged him from telling the truth, an appellate court overturned Haynes conviction and ordered a new trial.
“Some people would have given up,” said Barnett, whose Chicago law firm, Hale & Monico, became involved in the case after Hammond recanted. “But Terrence never lost hope. He did it almost all on his own.”
After the hearing, Haynes and his family headed over to see a new branch office the law firm opened a few blocks away. It will be known as the “Terrence Haynes Justice Center,” and will be used to review other problematic cases in the county. Haynes said he already knows of a few and may assist whatever work goes on there.
Burnett said Haynes — a high school dropout who now casually tosses out legal terms in Latin — is smart enough to go to law school. Haynes’ mother believes he could be a paralegal, working with the wrongly accused.
“He can do anything he wants now,” she said. “I just want him to do good.”
But first it was time to soak in his victory Monday. He stood for a long time on the lawn of his mother’s home in Kankakee as friends and relatives arrived in small groups to hug him under a blue sky. Others video-chatted him on smartphones his friends handed him one by one — technology that was science fiction to Haynes until his release months ago.
Haynes said his immediate plans include some travel, maybe to Georgia with a brother, and definitely to Florida. He has not been to the ocean since 1998, he said.
He has used a jet ski before, but only on the cloudy Kankakee River. This time it would be different.
“I’ll be out there,” he said, “looking down through the clear water.”
LIBERTY HAS NO EXPIRATION DATEDemocrats wouldn't buy a clue if it was government subsidized.
Modified by TEEBONE at Tue, Jun 04, 2019, 11:29:54
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