Three More Innocent, Native Black American, Men Freed From Prison

By Noble Johns

— It is estimated that one-in-three Native American Black men between the ages of 17 and 50 are under some type of supervision by the criminal justice system in this country. And, with the great numbers of innocent Black men being released from prison here lately, it is reasonable to assume that most of the Blacks incarcerated in this country are in jail for crimes they didn’t commit.

After DNA evidence set him free following a 14-year prison term, Calvin Ollins gazed out his lawyer's window and admired the view — even if it was only a crowded suburban Chicago parking lot; he was free!

``I was so used to waking up with no window. This is beautiful,'' the 29-year-old Ollins said.

Ollins was released from Joliet Correctional Center on Wednesday, less than an hour after his cousin Larry Ollins, 31, and Omar Saunders, 32, were released from nearby Stateville Correctional Center. All were serving life without parole.

Omar Saunders used a cell phone for the first time Wednesday and called his girlfriend. Larry Ollins wanted any kind of food that was "unpenitentiary," as long as it was "a big dish of something good." Calvin Ollins thanked Jesus Christ and African choir Ladysmith Black Mambazo, and smiled so wide it seemed like he might break something.

On Wednesday, after being locked up for almost 15 years, the three men walked out of prison, angry at the criminal justice system that wrongfully convicted them of the 1986 rape and murder of medical student Lori Roscetti, but grateful to be free.

Circuit Court Judge Dennis J. Porter ordered the men's release after prosecutors said they had no evidence the men had anything to do with the death of Lori Roscetti, who was killed in October 1986 on her way home from a studying session on Chicago's West Side. Porter also expunged the conviction of a fourth defendant, Marcellius Bradford, who served 6 1/2 years.

Their release marks the latest in an embarrassing string of cases in which men have been sent to prison and even death row from Chicago-area courts only to be found years later to have been wrongfully convicted.

Thirteen men have been freed from death row in Illinois since 1987 because of wrongful convictions, prompting Gov. George Ryan to impose a moratorium on capital punishment in the state.

Ollins' enjoyment of the view from the second-story office in Naperville was just one reminder of all he and the others have missed during their nearly 15 years behind bars.

There was, for example, the laughter when they were handed metal knives and forks instead of the plastic utensils prison inmates eat with. There was the pointing at bunches of grapes, something they said they hadn't seen since their freedom was taken. And there were shaking heads when Calvin Ollins seemed to suddenly realize that he'd been locked up for almost the entirety of Michael Jordan's NBA career.

But there were also bad memories. Saunders has a long scar on his head — evidence of more than a dozen times he was been stabbed while in prison. And more painful than those wounds, he said, is the understanding that so many people he knows came to suspect he was capable of rape and murder. ``That was the hardest,'' he said.

Saunders thinks the reason he never heard from his two daughters, who are now 15 and 14, is because their mothers thought he was guilty.

``I don't know where they are,'' he said of his daughters, as he stood outside Joliet Correctional Center. ``Hopefully this will bring them out of the darkness.''

As for their plans, the men said they don't really have any beyond staying in a hotel the next night or two, and reuniting with friends and family.

``We learned by being incarcerated you want to take it one day at a time,'' said Saunders.

Their attorney, Kathleen Zellner, told reporters there would be a lawsuit filed within days against the police, prosecutors and the crime lab that helped convict the four men.

``I think they know what's coming,'' said Saunders of the authorities who put him and the others in prison. ``They know a storm is coming.''

Asked how much money they would seek, Larry Ollins responded, "Shaquille O'Neal money," a reference to the basketball star's huge salary. In a similar case, Cook County officials in 1999 settled a lawsuit filed by the Ford Heights Four--four men wrongly convicted of a double murder--for $36 million.

Assistant State's Attorney Celeste Stack told the judge that the initial investigation was ``done in good faith, based on the best evidence we had at the time,'' but Zellner blasted those who helped convict the four men.

``I cannot overstate the official misconduct, the abuse of power, the activities that went on that I believe were criminal in nature,'' Zellner said after Porter ordered the men released.

At trial, police crime lab analyst Pamela Fish testified that semen taken from the victim's body and her clothing could have belonged to three of the defendants.

But a DNA expert later examined Fish's notes and said they show that none of the four men had a blood type matching the samples. In fact, DNA tests by Cook County State's Attorney Richard Devine's office showed that none of the four hairs and 22 semen stains found on Roscetti's jacket matched any of the men charged.

``If not for the DNA I wouldn't be standing here,'' Zellner said. ``The DNA shows these people had nothing to do with raping and murdering Lori Roscetti.''

While Bush is calling for American Justice in Afghanistan, it is really sad how this country treats Black men. As a result, America should reexamine every case of Black men in prison to free these innocent Americans who have been mistreated by this so-called American Justice.

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