After enduring a painful 22-year wait for a hearing, Roosevelt Myles on Monday, December 5, was exonerated in a Chicago courtroom when Judge Carol Howard threw out his conviction, nearly 30 years after he was wrongfully arrested and charged with killing a teenager on the West Side in 1992.
It was a stunning end to a case that the Crusader has covered extensively for the past five years. Some 26 Crusader stories later, Myles emerged victorious but heavily bruised, as the state’s main witness, Octavius Morris, was prepared to testify on behalf of the man whom she falsely confessed murdered her boyfriend Shaharian “Tony” Brandon in 1992.
Wearing faded jeans and a puffy coat, Morris appeared nervous as she waited in the corridor before Myles’ case was called. As it turned out, Morris didn’t have to testify, and her presence may have triggered prosecutor Todd Dombrowski to end the State’s fight against Myles.
Morris’ testimony would have dealt a serious and embarrassing blow to Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s office, which fought Myles’ post-conviction case for years, prolonging a two-decade legal battle that should have ended a long time ago.
In a courtroom at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse the wrongfully convicted man watched as his murder conviction was wiped out in a ten-minute proceeding that began when prosecutor Todd Dombrowski told Judge Howard “at this point the people will not be opposing the post-conviction petition that’s pending before the court.”
After Dombrowski’s statement, Judge Howard said, “Given the state’s motion to drop the charges of three verdicts of guilty and first-degree murder, consecutive 50 and 10-year sentences are vacated, and the state’s motion is granted. These charges against you, Mr. Myles have been dismissed.”
Myles and his legal team, led by prominent New York Attorney Jennifer Bonjean, hugged one another in a surreal moment that it seemed would never come for Myles. The group then left the courtroom and met Morris outside in the hall. There, she and Myles embraced each other in a deep hug as Bonjean and co-attorneys Sam Kennedy and Ashley Cohen looked on.
Later, Myles told the Crusader, “I feel great. I’ve been vindicated. God is good. This fight was long, but the facts proved everything I said all along. I hate that my parents aren’t here to see what happened today”
Bonjean said, “It’s been a long couple of decades. It’s always a mixture of feelings. We knew Roosevelt was innocent a long time ago. I’m grateful for what they did today, but this doesn’t excuse the fact that they took so long in realizing that Roosevelt is an innocent man. It’s a system that frames innocent people and even victimizes people, including a teenager who had her own trauma and pressure to bend to the will of police officers.
“It’s a little bit of a shock because he’s spent so many years fighting. For years he was just looking for an attorney. He was very brave but he did his entire sentence of 28 years. That’s a lifetime. You can’t get that back. No amount of money can get that back. Nothing can get that back. He is now a vindicated man.”
Associate Attorney Kennedy said, “They should have done this 20 years ago. The evidence hasn’t changed. It finally happened but after he served his whole sentence.”
Bonjean said she was unaware of Dombrowski’s plan to drop the case against Myles before Monday’s decision.
Her team was ready to begin the three-day hearing with the help of Morris, who until Monday, was an elusive but sought-after figure as Myles’ attorneys stepped up efforts to get his conviction overturned.
Bonjean, whose national profile and reputation grew after she helped get actor Bill Cosby released from prison in 2020 after a Philadelphia judge threw out his convictions of drugging and sexually assaulting a woman, said Myles will pursue his Certificate of Innocence as his first order of business as an exonerated man.
Meanwhile, Myles is a man with deep scars who refuses to return to Chicago where he grew up. His mother and father died while Myles fought to clear his name.
Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx did not release a statement in response to Monday’s decision. Hopes were high when Myles’ case fell into the lap of Foxx, elected as Cook County’s first Black female State’s Attorney in 2016. She pledged to clean up the criminal justice system and erase Chicago’s reputation as the “False Confession Capitol of the U.S.”
But while she had scores of convictions stemming from corrupt Chicago detectives Ronald Watts and Reynaldo Guevara thrown out, Foxx’s office vigorously fought Myles’ efforts to get his conviction overturned. Instead of righting a wrong, in the last five years, Foxx’s office helped Myles’ life worsen. In 2017, her office’s Conviction Integrity Unity began reviewing Myles’ case for police misconduct, but the unit dropped the case without explanation.
When Myles retained Bonjean as his attorney, Foxx’s office fought hard against Myles in court despite the lack of evidence against him, and Morris’ admission that Chicago police forced her to testify that Myles killed her friend.
On February 11, 2019, at the Harold Washington Library, a ceremony renaming Congress Parkway after journalist Ida B. Wells, took place. There, a Crusader journalist heard a conversation between Foxx and Crusader Publisher Dorothy Leavell, who asked her about Myles’ case. Foxx responded that she was unable to talk about the case but said it would have “a positive outcome.” Two days before her office had Myles’ post-conviction hearing case dismissed by Judge Dennis Porter. And when Bonjean filed an emergency order, Foxx’s office in 2020, requested 60 days to respond despite already being 73 days late in filing a response.
Myles’ legal battle with Foxx’s office added more scars that piled up as he waited and fought 22 years for a hearing to clear his name after he was charged and convicted for murdering Brandon on the West Side at 2:45 a.m. on November 16, 1992.
Brandon and Morris were walking out of a house when, within steps of Morris’ front door, a man approached them yelling “This is a stickup.” He then fired two bullets into Brandon’s torso; he later died at a local hospital. The prosecution claimed Morris and a sex worker named Sandra Burch told police Myles was the shooter. The police reports however had many discrepancies, and Burch died before the trial. Police noted “some conflict in the statements of the witnesses.”
Morris told the first officers on the scene that two males approached her and Brandon.
Burch said there was one.
Morris said the shooter jumped in a getaway car to flee the scene; Burch claimed he fled on foot.
Morris said one of the assailants wore all black and was about 5 feet 6 inches tall. The other was about 6 feet tall and wearing a white jogging suit. Both men were in their late teens. Burch said the gunman wore a red jacket. Myles, 28 at the time, usually wore blue, which was also his nickname.
Myles did not have a violent criminal record but struggled with a drug addiction. Friends described him as a playful individual who loved life.
When he was accused of killing Brandon, there was no DNA or gunpowder linking Myles to the shooting. Though he was convicted of armed robbery, police never found any items that belonged to Brandon or Morris on Myles. And Myles had several alibis, including Michael Hooker, who saw him leaving the apartment of a friend named Ronnie Bracey several blocks away.
After the shooting, Myles dressed in blue, walked by the crime scene on his way to a corner store to buy cigarettes. Police stopped him and walked him over to a police car to where Morris was waiting. They asked her if Myles was the shooter. She said no. But after officers visited Morris’ house several times, she said Myles killed Brandon. And hers and Burch’s stories began to appear similar.
On December 8, 1992, Myles was arrested in connection with Brandon’s death.
According to an affidavit he filed with the Independent Police Review Authority, while Myles was in interrogation with seven detectives from the violent crimes unit 652 at Grand and Central, for hours they beat him with a flashlight and telephone book to force Myles to confess to the murder. Myles said disgraced Chicago Detective Anthony Wojcik slapped him around several times.
A Crusader review of IPRA records in 2017 showed that Myles’ claims were never investigated.
Wojcik, a 29-year veteran of the force who had 41 citizen complaints on his record, retired in 2016 after a Chicago Inspector General report accused him and four officers of lying to protect Officer Jason Van Dyke, who shot Laquan McDonald 16 times in 2014.
With a reputation for forcing false confessions and filing false police reports, Wojcik was named in two police misconduct settlement suits totaling more than $5 million. He worked under disgraced retired Chicago police detective Reynaldo Guevara, who framed many Latino and Black men, resulting in dozens of wrongful conviction cases.
Myles was convicted of first-degree murder and armed robbery in 1996. He was sentenced to prison for 50 years for murder and 10 years for armed robbery.
After being rejected for a new trial, an Appeals Court in 2000 granted him an evidentiary hearing after Myles said his alibis weren’t allowed to testify as he received ineffective counsel from public defenders who presented a weak defense.
For 17 years Myles waited behind bars for his day in court for the evidentiary hearing. Over 100 delays, including 70 continuances by a string of public defenders, piled up under Judge Porter.
In 2017 Myles retained Bonjean who fought hard in court to get Myles the evidentiary hearing he had been granted in 2000.
Two years later Judge Porter dismissed Myles’ appeal, saying his post-conviction case had no merit. But after an Illinois Appeals Court disagreed and sent the case back to Judge Porter in 2020, he recused himself and eventually retired from the bench.
In July2020, Myles was released from prison on good time after serving 28 years behind bars. But his troubles were far from over. With little money, a murder conviction and health problems, Myles struggled to return to society as a man heavily bruised and battered by a broken justice system.
After Judge Porter recused himself, Myles’ case was then given to Judge William Raines, a former police officer from California. Under Raines, Myles’ case was in limbo for an entire year as prosecutor Dombrowski spent the entire time trying to serve subpoenas to Buzzfeed and Discovery LLC, whose “Reasonable Doubt” television series concluded that Myles is an innocent man who could not have murdered Brandon. Judge Raines was often soft on Dombrowski and allowed him to make false statements in court against Bonjean without any warnings to stop such behavior.
Whileunder Judge Raines, Myles’ file went missing for 110 days but turned up on Judge Raines’ desk after the Crusader inquired about it through Chief Judge Timothy Evans’ office.
When Bonjean challenged Judge Raines and demanded a hearing for Myles, things grew testy before Judge Raines. Several assistant state’s attorneys were caught on a hot mic disparaging Bonjean and her associate, Kennedy.
The revelation made global headlines. Judge Raines was removed from the bench and charged with several counts of judicial misconduct.
The case was then assigned to Judge Howard, who in July ended the year-long stalemate by ruling against Dombrowski’s requests to subpoena Buzzfeed and Discovery LLC, saying he failed to meet the standards of an Illinois law that requires attorneys to exhaust all options before subpoenaing news organizations. It was a death blow to the prosecutor’s efforts against Myles’ case.
Judge Howard had promised during an earlier appearance to have Myles’ 22 year wait for an evidentiary hearing held by the end of the year. She kept her promise.