Man convicted of Gold Coast ‘ATM murder’ says he was framed

WGN Investigates

CHICAGO -- WGN Investigates looked into yet another case of a man who said he was wrongfully convicted of murder—but this one was different.

The man in prison said he was helping police in return for reward money put up by the victim's family. That's when it went all wrong for him.

It’s the story of the odd connection between a mysterious Guantanamo Bay Prison interrogator and a Gold Coast murder case.

WGN Investigates tracked down a former Chicago detective turned Guantanamo Bay interrogator to find answers after a man said he framed him for the Gold Coast murder.

In 1989, Richard Zuley was part of a team of cops trying to solve the murder of Dana Feitler, a young lady with a promising future.

Zuley was also known as Captain Collins. He was written about extensively by Wall Street Journal author Jess Bravin and torture victim Mohamedou Slahi.

Bravin wrote about one prisoner who was stripped, beaten and subjected to extreme temperatures—all under the direction of Captain Collins.

Some facts about the Feitler murder case are certain. Feitler lived in a ritzy North Side neighborhood. Early one morning at 1:50 a.m., she withdrew $200 from an ATM a good distance away. At 1:54 a.m., she got another $200. Around 2:30 p.m., she was found shot in an alley several blocks from her home with the money missing.

In the 28 years since she was murdered, the neighborhood has changed. The bank where she took money out of an ATM is now a Starbucks.

Lee Harris has spent those last 28 years in prison for Feitler’s murder—a crime he said he never committed.

“I’ve been unjustly convicted of a crime I had no parts in. I trusted the wrong people. And the thanks I got, was a 90-year prison sentence,” he said.

He said he was framed for the murder by Detective Zuley.

“He’s the worst thing that ever could have happened to the Chicago police dept. I think that he would do anything to solve the big one,” Harris said.

So why should you believe a convicted felon?

WGN Investigates discovered unanswered questions, conflicting stories, sloppy police reports and leads that were never pursued.

The murder case was what police called a “heater case.” Neighbors were scared. People living among mansions didn’t expect one of their own to be fatally shot.

Police had a theory from the beginning--Feitler was snatched from the lobby of her apartment by three African-American men. The men forced her to walk with them to the ATM, take out her money, then walked her back to an alley and shot her.

And police had an ace in the hole, a cop-friendly informant, willing to say anything to help them. That person was Harris.

“They would say, hey Lee, listen we got solve a problem and we really wanna. Then he said, ‘Listen. If you can help us, it’s worth $20,000.’ I said, 20 grand! He said, ‘Yeah, and I will make sure you get it.’ Again, I’m talkin’ to my friends now. So I have no reason not to believe them!” Harris said.

Harris said those friends were Chicago police officers.

Harris’ attorney, Jennifer Blagg, said he was convicted of the murder because of statements fed to him police.

“I have mapped out Lee’s various statements and tried to do the time frame on that and they’re impossible. It’s absolutely impossible to go all the places that Lee is saying he’s going within the time frame like of meeting at the bar at midnight and her being murdered at 2 a.m. It’s impossible,” Blagg said.

One key period claimed by police is that it took four minutes for the group to walk from the ATM to where police heard a gunshot from the alley.

WGN Investigates retraced the route. After four minutes, our team was not even close to where the spot Feitler was found. They arrived at the location after seven minutes.

Willing to please, Harris told police he met up with the killers. Down a road and past a couple of security guards. Unfortunately, the guards never saw the group, so Harris’ story had to change and he said police told him to say he went a different route.

“There is nothing linking Lee Harris to this case except Lee Harris statements which police told him what to say on his way to the station,” Blagg said.

As police rounded up known gangsters they found they were still no closer to solving the case. But there is something interesting. Detective Zuley’s handwritten notes – when typed up – were changed.

“When you compare the reports. You see key differences in the reports that I’ve highlighted here. Here he put his name on top. He’s added information about the, um, the offense. You notice here, he wrote 1990, instead of ’89 on the date of the crime? Inherently telling you that it was written in 1990,” Blagg said. Zuley admitted in court he sometimes writes reports a year later. Information appears to be added.

Along the way, police missed a couple of leads. A watch was found in Feitler’s elevator. She was also missing a watch. Police never followed up.

Some homeless folks lived in a nearby alcove where Feitler was shot and they vanished and were never questioned.

A neighbor told police she opened her garage door scaring a white guy in the alley right next to where Feitler was found. That man was never questioned or found.

“I had this labeled, the tide turns,” Blagg said.

That’s because Zuley failed to convince the state’s attorney that another suspect did the murder. So, he went for the Hail Mary.

“He was in a corner,” Harris said. “He was in a corner and he promised he could deliver the big one. And he ‘solved’ it. He ‘solved’ it.”

Even though there is no physical evidence in this case. The only things linking Harris to the crime are his own changing stories and a woman with a dog at 1:30 a.m. coming out of the park, walking by.

The only witness – the dog walker – to meet up with her they had to go way out of their way. In fact, police said they turned and went back the way they came.

It doesn’t make sense they’d go so far out of the way, but Harris once again changed his story to make it so, to help the police case. Then everything suddenly turned on him.

“Lo and behold, later on the same lady that I’d been sitting up talking to just like we’re talking right now holding the conversation. They say she picked me out of a line up. I said that’s impossible. This is highly impossible. How’s she going to pick me out of a line up and I’ve been with her all this time?” Harris said.

In court the woman said she was pretty sure it was Harris. She would not talk to WGN 28 years later.

And one more – a stool pigeon came to court to say Harris confessed. He has since changed his story telling the state’s attorney he lied.

It’s hard to imagine how Harris went from being the cop’s best friend to murder suspect when you see the letters police wrote on his behalf. During the investigation calling him a witness, getting him housing, Zuley himself paid for part of a hotel stay with a personal credit card.

Harris said Zuley promised him the $20,000 to $25,000 reward.

“Oh, he would say it regular. And like I said when I got ready to pull out when I felt something go wrong. He would say Lee, don’t worry I got you. You’re a few steps closer to this money. I’m going to make sure you get it,” Harris said.

Even Zuley must have realized that promising a reward, doesn’t look good. In his report, Zuley wrote he told Harris the reward is off. Then in what can only be described as creative writing, Zuley described Harris’ expression even though they were on the phone.

“So the whole thing is Zuley tries to make it seem like he’s telling Lee some of these reports, you’re not going to get the reward. He said, Ask Harris if he was looking for the reward. He didn’t answer. Just smiled,” Blagg said.

Harris reiterated that he did not kill Feitler.

“I get 90 years for killing somebody I have never seen,” he said. “Never seen a day in my life.”

The Conviction Integrity Unit of the Cook County State’s Attorney is currently reviewing this case.

WGN Investigates did reach out to Feitler's family and they chose not to comment on it.

The police investigation at one point turned up a bloody t-shirt from another potential suspect, but investigators misplaced the samples of that shirt.

Also, Zuley was a detective in the Latherial Boyd murder case in 1990. Twenty-three years later, Boyd was found to be wrongfully convicted and freed in 2013.