To loosely paraphrase Dorothy, sometimes there's no place like jail.
Ask Daniel Taylor, a Chicago teen arrested for disorderly conduct at 6:45 p.m. on Nov. 16, 1992 and taken to a police station lockup. Taylor, a 17-year-old who lived in the Uptown neighborhood on the North Side, remained in custody until 10 p.m., according to court records.
While Taylor munched on a baloney sandwich prepared by his keepers, two Uptown residents were shot and killed a couple of miles away in an apartment used for drugs and prostitution.
Fast forward two weeks, when the authorities received a tip that Taylor might have been involved in the murders. Rousing Taylor from his sleep at 2 a.m., police brought him in for questioning. No lawyer, parent or guardian was present for the interrogation, which was not videotaped. Denying his involvement at first, the teen finally gave a court-reported confession at 5:23 a.m.
Later that day, Taylor remembered he had an alibi for the night of the murders. It seemed ironclad. Police records showed he was in custody at 8:43 p.m., the time the couple was shot.
Rather than admit their mistake, however, the Cook County State's Attorney's Office charged Taylor with first-degree murder and brought the case to trial. Attacking the accuracy of the lockup log, and relying almost entirely on the confession, prosecutors convinced the jury that Taylor was guilty. The judge sentenced him to life without parole.
In 2001, as Taylor languished behind bars, Chicago Tribune reporters looked into the case and found additional evidence supporting Taylor's claim. The State's Attorney's Office responded with a new investigation, but reached the same conclusion: Taylor was guilty.
Last year, the Tribune disclosed that the new investigation had been a whitewash, but prosecutors would not budge. When State's Attorney Anita Alvarez's spokesperson was asked whether prosecutors had concealed evidence in the case, she called the claim "an unsubstantiated allegation."
But by this time the Illinois Attorney General's Office had launched an investigation of its own -- and found the worst imaginable form of prosecutorial misconduct.
As revealed in court records filed last Friday by Taylor's lawyers with the Center on Wrongful Convictions, the A.G.'s probe unearthed documents proving county prosecutors knew before Taylor's trial that he actually was in custody at the time of the shootings. Yet, they improperly "suppressed" this evidence by burying it in their case files, Taylor's lawyers allege.
The documents included handwritten notes by Assistant State's Attorney David Styler taken at interviews with seven Chicago Police personnel responsible for the lockup where Taylor was housed. Each official supported Taylor's alibi -- either by expressly saying he was behind bars at the time of the Nov. 16 murders or confirming no one was released between Taylor's arrest for disorderly conduct and the slayings.
Also hidden in the state's attorney's files was a timeline of events showing that Taylor was continuously in police custody from 6:45 to 10 p.m. on Nov. 16, as well as two police rosters that named Taylor among those still in custody when a new shift took over at 9:30 p.m., about 45 minutes after the murders.
The explosive documents, prepared not long after Taylor first told police his alibi, gathered dust until the A.G. discovered them in 2012 -- 19 years after Taylor's conviction. The A.G. sent the secret interview notes to Taylor's lawyers with a cover letter that read, in part: "We thought it prudent to tender certain notes to you immediately."
To his credit, prosecutor Styler, now in private practice, recently provided an affidavit to the defense acknowledging he wrote the interview notes prior to Taylor's indictment. Styler said he filed the notes when Taylor was charged with the murders. Why weren't they disclosed for almost two decades? We don't know yet. But it's the same question Chicago Sun-Times reporters raised when law enforcement hid key witness interviews in the beating death of David Koschman. A special prosecutor has since filed involuntary manslaughter charges against a nephew of former Mayor Richard M. Daley.
On February 7, Taylor's lawyers will appear before Cook County Judge Jorge Alonzo to present the new evidence of the old notes. They hope Taylor will soon join an ever-growing club that includes 77 prisoners exonerated of felonies in Cook County, 31 of whom confessed to crimes they did not commit. Twelve of the bogus confessions were by juveniles, who are twice as likely to falsely admit a crime when questioned by the authorities.
Daniel Taylor is now 37-years-old. Having spent more than half of his life behind bars, there's no place like home for Taylor -- and no place like prison for the prosecutors who stole his youth.