Gerald Reed released from prison after 30 years; sentence commuted by Gov. Pritzker

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Gerald Reed
(ABC7 Chicago News)

Reed says he was tortured into confessing to double murder by detectives working for disgraced CPD Cmdr. Jon Burge

By Jesse Kirsch, Liz Nagy and ABC7 Chicago Digital Team

Gerald Reed, who has served decades in prison while insisting he was tortured to force him to confess to a double murder, was released Friday after more than 30 years behind bars.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker commuted his life sentence late Thursday, which allowed Reed to walk out of a Joliet prison a free man.

His 78-year-old mother Armanda Shackelford has been tireless in her insistence that her son is innocent. She said he would not take a plea deal because he didn’t want everyone to think his mother is a liar.

“Whatever day he’s coming home! That’s the thing! He’s coming home!” Shackelford said on the night her fight for her son’s freedom ended. “They never had any evidence to prove that he did those crimes. The only thing they had was a signed statement that they tortured him so bad into signing.”

They were reunited in a tearful reunion outside Stateville Correctional Center.

Reed walked with the help of his great niece who, until Friday he’d only ever met in person during prison visits.

“I never lost hope,” he said.

“‘I want lemon meringue pie.’ That’s his favorite,” Shackelford said her son requested for the Easter weekend celebrations.

Reed’s clemency petition attorney, Sheila Bedi, said the 57-year-old will now live with family in Naperville. He’s still considered guilty under the law, and plans to fight to clear his name.

“I left a co-defendant behind. And the system was like me vs. him, and that’s not right,” Reed said.

Reed spent the last year in isolation, terrified of contracting COVID-19 in prison.

“It was a fight for my life,” he recalled.

Now he’s easing into life as a free man, ready to re-enter society with a painfully unique perspective.

“Out here is like foreign to me right now,” Reed said.

Reed was convicted in 1990 of a double murder and sentenced to life in prison. The detectives on the case were working for disgraced Cmdr. Jon Burge. In 2018, a judge initially granted Reed a new trial, but then a new judge took over and said the conviction would stand, according to Bedi.

Reed’s criminal defense attorney, Elliot Zinger, said the team has filed a motion with the state Supreme Court Wednesday night to have that new judge’s ruling vacated. Zinger said he doesn’t know what ultimately could happen after that, but made it clear the fight will not be over without vindication.

“He could have been out because they had offered him plea deals to let him go. And he said ‘Mama, I can’t do that. Because if I take a plea deal, those crimes will be on me for the rest of my life. I would make you out to be a liar. Cause that’s something you don’t do.'” she said.

Robert J. Milan, the special prosecutor in Reed’s case, said in a statement: “On behalf of murdered victims Pamela Powers, Willie Williams, and their loved ones, we are very disappointed by Governor Pritzker’s actions today. The victims’ families and the Special Prosecutor’s Office were never notified by the Governor’s Office of today’s decision. Clearly, in Illinois, violent offenders are treated with more respect than the victims of crime.”

This article originally appeared on ABC 7 Chicago.

Related story: Gerald Reed, man who claims he was tortured into double murder confession, has sentenced commuted by Pritzker

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