Rolando Cruz: The Man Who Got Acquitted

Learn about Rolando Cruz who went from being tried three times to being acquitted in a 10 year battle. Rolando Cruz was born in 1963. Cruz is an American man that is well-known for being wrongfully convicted and given the death penalty alongside Alejandro Hernandez, Cruz’s co-defendant for the 1893 rape, murder, and kidnapping of Jeanine Nicarico, 10 in the DuPage County, Illinois.

The local police had no physical evidence that could link Hernandez or Cruz to the crime or crime scene. Their first trial was a join trial in 1987. Unfortunately, their statements were used against one another along with a third defendant.

Appeal after appeal along with other court motions, they have always remained on Illinois death row. Hernandez and Cruz were both tried two more times after their original joint trial. Each trial Hernandez was convicted and the last trial he was sentenced to life in prison.

While on the other hand Cruz was acquitted during his 1995 trial. This trial was his third trial he received after the sheriff’s lieutenant recanted his prior testimony. Not to mention some new DNA evidence resurfaced, which could exclude Hernandez and Cruz from the crime scene. The state of Illinois let go all charges against Hernandez in 1995 as well. This meant both Hernandez and Cruz were free.

Then in 1996, the state of Illinois indicted seven of the DuPage County Law enforcement officials for the conspiracy to convict Rolando Cruz along with a wrongful prosecution. However even though they were acquitted Steven Buckley, Hernandez, and Cruz still ultimately decided to file a civil suit against DuPage County.

It was not until September of 2000, when the three men finally got their settlement from DuPage County for their wrongful conviction and prosecution. Cruz was officially pardoned two years later in 2002 by the Illinois governor. Cruz ended up serving over 12 years on Illinois’ death row.

The Crime at Hand

Jeanine Nicarico, 10 was abducted on February 25, 1983 in broad daylight from her residence located in Naperville Illinois. Jeanine had the flu, which was the reason why she was at her residence alone while both of her parents were out at work and her sisters were in school. Two days later, Jeanine body was found just six miles from her residence. She was beaten to death and raped.

Rolando Cruz Investigation Case

Originally Rolando Cruz, then a 20-year-old well-known gang member from Aurora, Illinois was approaching the local police to share vital information he knew about the crime and to collect the $10,000 reward money. That is now how things went down. He became the person of interest instead.

It was not until a few weeks later that Alejandro Hernandez, another fellow high school dropout from Aurora, Illinois came and stated that there were three people who killed Jeanine and that he knew the two of them. One being Ricky and Steven Buckley. Just like Cruz, Hernandez was another person of interest instead.

However, the local police did take Buckley’s boots in for evidence. They wanted to compare the print that was found on the front door of Jeanine’s home, which was ultimately kicked in to gain access to the residence.

However, John Gorajczyk who examined the prints for the DuPage County police stated that the prints did not match, but Gorajczyk never did finish his report about this finding. But, Gorajczyk stated that Thomas Knight Assistant State’s Attorney and the lead prosecutor told him to not talk about the Buckley print not being a match. Knight himself even sent the boots along with the print to the Illinois State Police Crime Lab, but the results came back for it not being a match. That is when he sent the print and the boots to an expert based in Kansas, who like everyone else agreed it was not a match. For the prosecutions last ditch effort, they sent the print and boots off to an anthropologist based in North Carolina, Louise Robbins. She was the only person that said the boots indeed match the print along with stating she could even identify the race and height of the person wearing them as well.

Buckley, Hernandez, and Crus were then indicted on rape, murder, and abduction of Jeanine Nicarico on March 8, 1984.

In 1986, Louise Robbins was officially discredited as an expert witness because the FBI crime lab held their own tests to see what was. After they analyzed everything, they agreed with the other findings that there was not a match whatsoever.

During this time, there was a lot of political and public pressure on directly on the DuPage County State Attorney’s office to solve this very publicized case. The prosecutors and police were convinced that Cruz was the man. But right before the 1985, John Sam, the lead detective resigned because he was certain that the three men were not guilty, but they were innocent.

Rolando Cruz Prosecution

Then in 1987, Rolando Cruz, Steven Buckley, and Alejandro Hernandez were charged with raping, murdering, and kidnapping Jeanine without having any forensic or physical evidence.

During the joint trial that was held back in 1987, there were two detectives that testified that during an interview that was held on May 9, 1983 was when Rolando Cruz had sat down and told them that he had a vision about Jeanine’s murder. That he went on to tell them that her nose was broken and how she was hit in the head so hard that there was a compression mark that was left in the ground where her body was located. Not to mention how she was sodomized and left in the farmer’s field.

All these details were never made public, but Rolando Cruz stated that he never made such a statement.  There was not even any police record of this statement or interview to be found.

Hernandez and Cruz were both convicted, while the jury was deadlocked when it came to Steven Buckley. However, the state of Illinois decided to not try Buckley again, so on March 5, 1987 the charges against Buckley were officially dropped. But for Hernandez and Cruz, they were sentenced to death thanks to the jury.

Then in November 1985, Brad Dugan, who was not related to any of the three defendants was given two consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole for two unrelated murders and rapes that happened in LaSalle and Kane counties. Dugan plead guilty to the crimes, so he would not be slapped with the death penalty.

During his plea deal, he was saying hypothetically that he may be solely responsible for raping and murdering Jeanine Nicarico, in all attempts to avoid the death penalty yet again. However, the prosecution this time rejected his proposal, but they also did not investigate him in the Jeanine Nicarico crime either.

First Appeal on Illinois Death Row

Cruz and Hernandez’s defense team appealed their convictions. Then on January 19, 1989, the convictions of Hernandez and Cruz were officially overturned thanks to a prosecutorial error, which was remanded in a lower court.

This is when the prosecution decided they were going to try Hernandez and Cruz separately instead of having a joint trial like they did originally.

While DuPage county halfway accepted Dugan’s confession, but they did not believe that he was the sole person in this crime. The prosecution believed that Cruz was the one who raped Jeanine while Hernandez and Dugan were the ones that committed the murder.

Just like in the original trial, the prosecution rested their case with the two shoe prints that were below the window of Jeanine’s home that had to have belonged to either Cruz or Hernandez. Paul Sahs a crime lab technician with the DuPage County Sheriff’s Office testified for each of the guys retrials, which happened to be under separate prosecutions. But before the DuPage 7 grand jury, Sahs’ asked to be excused as a witness. This was since Nike officials explained that the prints were coming from a woman’s shoe, size 5.5 or a size 6, which was far too small to fit either Cruz or Hernandez. But in true fashion the prosecution did not relay this information to the defense team, as it is required by law. However, the prosecutors did put Sahs on the stand, but avoided asking him about the shoe sex or the sex of the person wearing the shoe to not reveal this information at trial.

However, when it came to Cruz’s second conviction along with the death sentence in February of 1990, the Illinois Supreme Court affirmed it. The Illinois Supreme Court stated that the errors within the trial did not really render it from it being a completely fair and lawful trial.

Hernandez second trial resulted in a hung jury. When Hernandez was tried for the third time, the jury found him guilty, but he was not sentenced to death this time. He was given life in prison. Officially on May 17, 1991 Hernandez received an 80-year sentence.

Exoneration

Cruz decided to do another appeal in December of 1992. Since his second conviction was again reaffirmed by the Illinois Supreme Court; Mary Brigid Kenney, Assistant State’s Attorney General was the person assigned to officially defend against Cruz’s appeal. Kenney sent out a memo to Roland Burris, Illinois Attorney General stating her concern about the various errors in the investigation and the trial in Cruz’s original conviction. Kenney even included the perjured testimony along with the fraudulent investigations by local officials.

However, this is when Burris started disputing Kenney’s claims, claiming that he could not hold judgment higher than the jury that did their job. This is ultimately the reason why Kenney resigned stating that she would not be a part of helping them execute an innocent man.

It was not until 1994 when Cruz’s conviction was overturned thanks to an appeal. The DuPage county decided to retry the case yet again.

During Cruz’s third and final trial, the sheriff’s lieutenant testified regarding Cruz’s vision during the first trial officially recanted his previous testimony. The sheriff’s lieutenant finally admitted that yes, he testified under oath, but that Cruz did not make that statement. The sheriff’s lieutenant also stated that the DNA tests also excluded Cruz along with Hernandez from the suspect pool. However, that the DNA was, in fact, a match for Brian Dugan, who confessed to this crime nearly 10 years ago in 1985.

Officially on November 3, 1995, the DuPage County Judge presiding over Cruz’s third and final trial acquitted him. Cruz was acquitted on the sole basis of the recanted testimony, along with the lack of evidence, and the newly founded DNA evidence. Then in December of that year, charges were also acquitted against Hernandez.

Rolando Cruz Today

Then in 1996, the state of Illinois indicted seven of the DuPage County Law enforcement officials for the conspiracy to convict Rolando Cruz along with a wrongful prosecution. However even though they were acquitted Steven Buckley, Hernandez, and Cruz still ultimately decided to file a civil suit against DuPage County.

It was not until September of 2000, when the three men finally got their settlement from DuPage County for their wrongful conviction and prosecution. Cruz was officially pardoned two years later in 2002 by the Illinois governor. Cruz ended up serving over 12 years on Illinois’ death row.

It took local police to until November of 2005 to indict Dugan for the Nicarico murder. Then officially on July 28, 2009 Dugan, who was 52 pleaded guilty. On October 14, 2005, Dugan’s 1985 confession was officially made public for the very first time.

But on October 7, 2009, the jury decided that Dugan was indeed eligible for receiving the death penalty. He met all the requirements.

Then on March 11, 2011, Pat Quinn, Illinois Governor signed a bill that abolished the death penalty in Illinois altogether.

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