Three men imprisoned for nearly 20 years for the 1991 rape and murder of a 14-year-old girl will be freed this week after DNA testing linked a different man to the crime.
Robert Taylor, one of the exonerated men, walked out of Illinois’ Stateville Correctional Center Thursday a free man, while two others also wrongfully convicted in the case will have their convictions vacated, prosecutors said Thursday.
“I’m still getting used to it,” Taylor told The Associated Press shortly after leaving prison. “I knew it would come.”
The three men serving time, along with two others, were convicted in the November 1991 death of Cateresa Matthews. The 14-year-old girl was last seen at her grandmother’s house and was found dead by a highway near Dixmoor, which is about 20 miles south of Chicago.
The details of this wrongful conviction story have made it stand out, and defense attorneys have been seeking new DNA testing since 2009. The young men accused of the assault of Matthews and her murder by a single gunshot to the mouth were young teenagers at the time — three were 14, two were 16.
The treatment which the young men received at the hands of investigators one year later when brought in for questioning was also dubious, as they were held in custody and interrogated for hours before some signed confessions.
Although DNA evidence recovered from the girl’s body did not match any of the five defendants, and even though the confessions were questionable, prosecutors moved forward with the case against them.
The group came to be known as “The Dixmoor Five.” Defense attorneys claim at least one of the teens was told that they could see their parents if they signed confessions during a marathon questioning.
Ultimately two of the five young men received shorter sentences for testimony implicating the other three. Robert Lee Veal, now 34, and Shainne Sharp, now 36, received reduced 20-year prison sentences in exchange for their testimonies. Veal’s attorney told The AP that he has “severe learning disabilities” and was illiterate at the time that he signed the confession.
According to records, both Veal and Sharp served approximately 10 years each.
Now recent tests have identified a serial rapist as the source of the DNA, a man who was 33 at the time of the murder. That man is serving prison time in Cook County for a drug offense and is currently under investigation for Matthews’ murder.
“It’s truly unexplainable,” said Taylor’s attorney Josh Tepfer. “It’s one of the most tragic injustices in this state’s history. It’s five kids who were wrongfully convicted … while a true perpetrator went on and lived a criminal lifestyle.”
The other two exonerated men, Jonathan Barr, 34, and James Harden, 36, who are brothers, should be released tomorrow once paperwork is completed.
On his first day as a free man Taylor told The AP that his family was his lifeline while behind bars, and that he is excited to see them.
“I’m always going to be angry, due to what was taken away from me. I can’t get that back,” he said. “I’m not going to let my anger drive what I want to do with the rest of my life. There is so much I want to do.”
ABC News’ Andrew Fies and The Associated Press contributed to this report.