Roosevelt Myles prepares for freedom as court reverses dismissal of appeal by wrongfully convicted man
By Erick Johnson
He has spent 28 years in jail for a murder that he did not commit. Soon, Roosevelt Myles, 55, will be a free man. As he makes plans for his release, Myles got the biggest news of all.
After spending half of his life behind bars, Myles will finally have a chance to clear his name in a justice system that, for decades, made him suffer in his fight for freedom.
On May 15, an appellate court reversed the dismissal of his appeal by Judge Dennis Porter and ordered a third evidentiary hearing.
Based on Illinois’ good time law, Myles was scheduled to be released from jail this summer, but the latest ruling may be the final blow to clear his name and set him free sooner. The ruling sets in motion the likelihood that Myles’ conviction will be overturned and give him a certificate of innocence that will confirm what relatives, friends and detectives knew for decades.
The 20-page ruling from the First Appellate Court of Illinois First Judicial District concluded that Judge Porter was wrong when he dismissed Myles’ appeal in 2019 as he agreed with Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s office.
With Foxx’s approval in 2018, her prosecutors had Myles’ appeal thrown out and prolonged Myles’ long fight to clear his name. Prosecutors argued that Myles’ appeal was without merit because he failed to present substantial new evidence to support his claims of not being given a fair trial.
However, the appeals court disagreed and said that the outcome of his new evidence “is so conclusive that the result on retrial would probably change in the absence of any other evidence tying him to the shooting.”
This is a story that the Crusader has written about extensively for the past three years.
Two weeks ago, reviewing the homicide on the Discovery Channel’s Investigative Discovery series, “Reasonable Doubt,” a retired homicide detective in Birmingham, Alabama said Myles was innocent and that the murder was actually a planned hit that happened on Chicago’s West Side in the early morning hours of November 16, 1992.
Tony Brandon, 16, was shot twice in front of a house at 2:45 a.m. Brandon later died from his wounds. His girlfriend, 15-year-old Octavia Morris, was with Brandon when the shooter jumped out and said, “This is a stick-up,” before Brandon was shot.
Nothing was ever taken from the individuals, and no physical evidence was found that linked Myles to the crime.
Michael Hooker, Myles’ alibi, has, for decades, maintained that he saw Myles leaving his friend, Ronnie Bracey’s apartment several blocks away when Brandon was killed. Myles was on his way to a store when police stopped and questioned him about the shooting. He was immediately taken into police custody.
Despite the lack of evidence, in 1996, Myles was convicted of first-degree murder and attempted armed robbery.
In 2018, Morris—the state’s main witness—signed a sworn affidavit, saying she was pressured to confess that Myles was the killer after the retired, disgraced cop Anthony Wojcik visited her mother’s house six times after the murder. Another eyewitness, Sandra Burch, initially said Myles did not kill Brandon, but later changed her story after meeting with police. Myles’ public defender did not allow Hooker to testify at the murder trial.
For the next two decades, Myles would fight to clear his name from behind bars. In 2000, he won an appeal after an appellate court agreed that he received ineffective counsel and that his constitutional rights were violated. He waited nearly 20 years just for that hearing after a string of public defenders racked up 70 continuances or delays in his post-conviction case.
In 2017, New York Attorney Jennifer Bonjean took Myles’ case from the Cook County Public Defender’s Office after little to no work had been done on the case..
Due to extraordinary delays, Bonjean made Myles’ case one of her top priorities. Before Judge Porter, she argued that Myles deserved the evidentiary hearing that he was granted nearly two decades ago.
After delaying his decision three times, Judge Porter disagreed and dismissed Myles’ appeal, saying it had no merit and there was nothing new that would have changed the outcome of his murder trial.
Before he made his ruling, Judge Porter conducted a Google Maps search and said that Myles still could have committed the murder and returned to an apartment five minutes away.
In its ruling, the appeals court disagreed, saying, “Hooker’s affidavit provides a viable alibi for defendant as it places him, at the time of the shooting, at a location (Bracey’s house) separate from the location of the shooting.
“Hooker’s alibi testimony would have corroborated the defendant’s theory that Morris was lying when she testified at trial that she saw defendant shoot Brandon; defendant has made a substantial showing that his counsel acted in an objectively unreasonable manner by failing to present Hooker’s testimony in support of the otherwise uncorroborated defense.”
The appeals court also ruled that Porter was wrong in doing a Google Maps search saying, “the court erred in engaging in such fact-finding/credibility determinations during second-stage proceedings.”
The appeals court also disagreed with Judge Porter and the State’s Attorney’s Office, which argued that Morris’ recanting her testimony is nothing new because she made a similar typewritten statement to the defense investigator, Richard English, which was published at trial.
In its ruling, the appeals court wrote, “However, careful examination of Morris’ statement to English reveals that she only stated that unidentified “officers” kept coming to her house and questioning her about defendant, and that she eventually grew “tired” and said that defendant “did it.”
“Morris’ recantation affidavit specifically identified Detective Wojcik as the officer who kept coming to her house and “harassing” her.
“Morris’ recantation affidavit, which we take as true at the second-stage, post-conviction proceedings, was new as explained that her trial testimony identifying defendant was procured under coercion by Detective Wojcik.”
The ruling and Morris’ sworn confession leave the State’s Attorney’s Office with little to keep Myles’ conviction intact. Burch— the other eyewitness who changed her story after she saw Brandon’s murder from a parked car– has since died.
In response to the ruling, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office said in an email to the Crusader, “We are reviewing the court’s decision to determine next steps.”
The murder case happened nearly three decades ago. When Kim Foxx became Cook County State’s Attorney in 2016, her office had the opportunity to right a wrong in a broken justice system. Instead, her office made it worse for Myles by blocking his appeal and filing responses that caused the case to drag on for several more years.
In 2018, the State’s Attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unit, which investigates post-conviction cases, dropped Myles’ case without an explanation. Last year, Foxx’s office requested and was granted a 60-day extension after filing a response to Myles’ attorney’s emergency filing, 35 days after the deadline.
As Foxx sought re-election in the Democratic primary last March, Myles continued to languish behind bars.
Because of the pandemic, the Crusader was unable to reach Myles for his response to the appeals court’s ruling. His fiancée, Tanya Crowder, said she spoke to him when he called her from jail on May 5. She read Myles the appellate court’s ruling. She texted her response to the Crusader from her home in Peoria.
“He was like, ‘My God,’ and my daughters were cheering in the background. I went on to read him the top cover page and he was like, ‘baby, baby, baby, it’s going down, and this is what we needed, and this is what I’ve been fighting for.’ He gave thanks to God and was surprised at how quickly the decision came back.”
Crowder then said, “As for myself, I’m very, very excited!!! This is the first time that things have moved in a positive direction. I’ve been ready for him to come home, as we were going back and forth to Chicago. I’m just waiting for him to walk out of jail a free man. I shared the ruling with family members, and everybody’s anticipating the next step.”
Myles has served nearly his entire jail time. He is scheduled to be released from the Illinois River Correctional Center in Canton, Illinois the week of July 20th, after serving the required half of his 60-year sentence.
The trade certifications Myles achieved in jail, earned him points from Illinois’ good time law and took two years off his remaining time in prison.
Overturning his conviction was Myles’ next and final goal of becoming a fully free man.