Man freed after 29 years in prison for murder he did not commit

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JOLIET, Ill. — Freedom came Thursday for a man who says he was tortured into confessing to a murder he didn’t commit during the Jon Burge era in Chicago.

Keith Walker was in his twenties when he was sentenced to life in prison. Now 52, he says he’s blessed and ready to take one day at a time.

“There is no way in the world I should have been spending my whole life in prison for something I didn’t do,” Walker said.

Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul moved to dismiss all the charges against Walker, vacating his conviction. He was released from the Illinois Department of Corrections Joliet Treatment Center, Thursday afternoon.

Walker says officers under the watch of former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge tortured and coerced him into signing a false confession for a 1991 murder.

“He was the victim of the black box we’ve come to know now,” Lauren Myerscough-Mueller, an attorney with the Exoneration Project, said. “He was electrocuted, he was threatened with guns, he was beaten, he experienced horrible, horrible things.”

Burge and his crew were accused of routinely torturing Black men over decades. He was later convicted in federal court for lying under oath. He died in 2018.

Walker’s attorneys said no physical evidence ever tied him to the crime, but he was sentenced to life in prison.

“We see today the way in which police mistreat people of color in this country,” Sean Starr, an attorney with the Exoneration Project, said. “Keith is both a person who was subjugated and oppressed and tortured 30 years ago and he’s an emblem for the change that needs to happen in the world we live in today.”

“If it wasn’t for them, my attorneys and the people behind me, I would probably be rotting in prison because I’m fighting every day for them to hear my case. If you say due process of the law, I can’t tell,” Walker said.

It’s been a long road for Walker. In 2009, he was granted a new evidentiary hearing in the case but experienced delay after delay. In April, his new attorneys filed an emergency clemency petition pointing to his innocence and the health risks he faces due to COVID-19.

Walker said he’s looking forward to eating lamb chops and spending time with his four children. He said it was his faith and positivity that pulled him through.

“I feel magnificent,” Walker said. “I feel great.”

The Attorney General’s office released the following statement regarding Walker’s case:

Beginning in 2003, the Attorney General’s office was appointed as the special prosecutor handling a number of cases involving individuals who were convicted of crimes investigated by former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge and officers under his command.  After determining that we are unable to sustain our burden of proof, we today took steps to end the case against Keith Walker, and we have been in touch with the family of the victim of the underlying crime to inform them of our decision.  The Attorney General is committed to continuing to prosecute violent crimes when cases are referred to our office, to supporting the victims of crime and their families, and to working toward police reform that will restore public trust and avoid undermining prosecutions.

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