The Crusader Newspaper Group

Freedom at last: Roosevelt Myles released after 28 years behind bars

He’s finally out of jail!

By Erick Johnson

‘Twas the night before Tuesday, July 21. Roosevelt Myles Jr., was unable to sleep. The biggest gift of his life would come in less than 24 hours. He had waited for it for nearly three decades. He finally fell asleep at 2 a.m.

Later that morning at 10:15, Myles walked out of jail, a free man after 28 years behind bars.

photo3 e1595593388881A rainy morning, there was little fanfare outside the Illinois River Correction Center, but there was plenty of sunshine among Myles and his loved ones.

Wearing a face mask, T-shirt and gray sweatpants, Myles threw his arms in the air and walked to a waiting black Chevrolet Impala. Myles threw several bags of clothes into the back seat before he and the driver, fiancé Tanya Crowder, drove off, leaving behind years of pain, while starting a new journey as a free man.

Myles was finally released from prison Tuesday after earning good time that shaved two years off his sentence. It was the first big step in Myles getting his life back. Now an ex-felon and certified paralegal, Myles is looking forward to getting readjusted to society while stepping up his life-long effort to clear his name, with his freedom and easier access to resources.

Myles is free but his legal battle is not over.

He is now an ex-felon with a criminal record. All eyes are on the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office, which for the last three years has kept Myles in jail by opposing his post-conviction appeal for a hearing. But the wheels of justice began to turn in Myles’ favor. A recent appeals court ruling will finally give Myles his day in court to clear his name and seek justice for his wrongful conviction.

On Tuesday, Myles’ first order of business was a trip to the barber shop. Then came a visit to his sister’s house. After that, the phone calls and celebrations began as Myles enjoyed a day that he thought would never come.

His mother and father died while waiting for their son to come home, but to Myles, they were rejoicing from Heaven.

“This is just surreal,” he said, as he sat in a recliner in the home of his fiancé Tanya Crowder. “I can’t believe that I’m here.”

On his first day of freedom, a Crusader reporter followed Myles around Peoria. The first stop was Major League, a popular Black barber shop in a strip mall in Peoria. As Myles sat quietly, a barber cut down his white, overgrown afro to a sharp crew cut (the barber in the jail was unavailable for weeks as the prison remained on lockdown because of the coronavirus). As the barber clipped away, Myles, known to many as “Blue” called out to “Boo,” a man Myles knew in Peoria before he moved to Chicago after his teenage years.

IMG 1256001With a fresh haircut, Myles went to Peoria’s predominately Black East Bluff neighborhood where Myles’ sister, Sharon Myles-Stephens and her husband, Robert live. After entering the one-story house, Myles immediately went to a shelf in the living room, where two urns contain the ashes of his mother and father. He looked at them and simply stared for a minute.

Three years ago, they died seven months apart, while Myles was still in jail. They waited decades for their son’s freedom but never lived to see this day come. With a jail officer, Myles had attended his mother’s wake, but he was unable to do the same for his father. The family’s plans to bury their ashes in a cemetery in Yazoo, Mississippi have been on hold until Myles was released from prison.

It’s just one of several events that were delayed while Myles remained behind bars. The other important event is a wedding to marry his fiancé, Crowder. She met Myles through his sister Sharon in 2012. Sharon, a nurse at a doctor’s office, met Crowder when she was preparing for knee surgery.

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ROOSEVELT MYLES, JR. STANDS with his fiancé Tanya Crowder hours after he was released from the Illinois River Correctional Center in Canton, Illinois. (Photo by Keith Chambers)

For Myles, the biggest delay is getting his conviction overturned and obtaining his Certificate of Innocence.

In 1996, Myles was convicted for killing teenager Tony Brandon on November 16, 1992 on the West Side. The state’s main witness, Octavia Morris, in 2018, signed an affidavit saying that Chicago police officers visited her mother’s house six times to force her to confess that Myles committed the murder during the trial.

During those proceedings, Myles’ alibis, Michael Hooker, and his brother, were not called to testify. No DNA evidence was presented linking Myles to the crime.

A detective on the Discovery Network’s television show Reasonable Doubt, said Myles is innocent and that the murder was a set up. Police arrested Myles as he was on his way to a store in the neighborhood.

After an appeals court granted him a hearing in 2000, Myles never had his day in court. He went through a string of public defenders.

In 2017, New York Attorney Jennifer Bonjean took Myles’ case. Bonjean pushed to get Myles the hearing he never received, but in 2019, Judge Dennis Porter denied his appeal after prosecutors at Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s office argued Myles’ post-conviction case had no merit.

Myles went back to the appeals court, which disagreed with Judge Porter’s ruling. Bonjean filed a motion for a hearing and is now waiting for the next move from Foxx’s office. Prosecutors have until Friday, July 24 to respond before the 70-day deadline expires.

With their main witness admitting making a false confession and their case crumbling, Foxx’s office has resisted pressure to drop its opposition to Myles’ post-conviction appeals.

In the meantime, Myles must wear an ankle bracelet for his first 30 days after prison. He must notify his parole officer before he goes anywhere.

Meanwhile, Myles is working with Job Partnership, Peoria’s re-entry program, which helps former inmates get readjusted to society and obtain jobs through job training and counseling sessions that help polish resumes and work skills. Mila Brown, an administrative assistant, said, her office is seeking to get Myles a full-time job making between $12 to $15 an hour.

Myles said he received a job offer working at a law firm in Hinsdale after completing his certification for paralegal in jail.

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