Photo caption: EXONERATED BROTHERS SEAN TYLER and Reginald Henderson speak out after they were both denied a Certificate of Innocence on March 16.
Two exonerated Chicago brothers who spent over two decades in prison after they were wrongfully convicted of first-degree murder have each been denied their Certificate of Innocence.
Sean Tyler and Reginald Henderson were convicted of the murder of 10-year-old Rodney Collins in separate trials in 1995 and 1996, respectively. The brothers were teenagers when they said police beat them into falsely admitting they killed Collins. They spent 25 years in prison before they were exonerated in 2021.
Since then the brothers have been waiting for their Certificate of Innocence, which expunges their murder convictions and makes them eligible for monetary compensation.
On March 16, Cook County Circuit Court Judge Erica Reddick ruled Tyler and Henderson would have to prove their actual innocence.
Reddick’s ruling came two years after prosecutors agreed to vacate the brothers’ convictions and drop all charges against them, based on allegations of torture by detectives under disgraced former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge.
The brothers now must return to the courthouse where they were convicted, as they remain convicted murderers. The brothers’ next court date is April 20, followed by a two-day witness hearing starting May 4 at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse.
Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s office is not commenting on the case to the media because of the pending litigation.
Reddick’s ruling disappointed attorneys for Tyler and Henderson, whose mother died shortly before they were exonerated in 2021.
Jennifer Bonjean, an attorney for Henderson, told WTTW Channel 11, “It’s very difficult when people come out of prison, particularly innocent people, because they don’t actually get the same services as people who have done the time for crimes they’ve actually committed and come out and go on parole.
“These guys have been exonerated, so they don’t come out to the same resources, and therefore they really struggle because [for them] getting jobs, even though they don’t have this conviction in their background, they still have to explain to people where they’ve been for the last 20 years.”
The Exoneration Project’s Karl Leonard, an attorney who represents Tyler, said he’s confused by Reddick’s ruling that his client will need another hearing to prove his innocence.
“Normally you think of the criminal justice system as the state having to prove you guilty,” Leonard told WTTW Channel 11.
“In this context, we have to prove Sean and Reginald innocent. It’s not uncommon, but in other instances, the state agrees that the individuals are entitled to the Certificate of Innocence.
“And that process is very opaque to me. I don’t know how they decide when they’re going to oppose and when they’re not going to oppose. I definitely don’t understand how they arrived at the decision here to oppose these two Certificates of Innocence after agreeing that Sean and Reginald should be exonerated.”
During the interview, Tyler said, “Trying to really put it in my head that although Kim Foxx and the State’s Attorney’s Office wants to have a hearing that they’re really going to, I’m trying to believe that they’re really going to throw the towel in. I could be fooling myself as I have before many of times, but I want to have just a little bit of faith in the system, which again has shown itself plenty of times to me to be broken.”
Henderson told the television station that a Certificate of Innocence will help him bring closure to his mother’s death.
“The certificate will allow us to go to our mother’s gravesite and tell her, ‘It’s something that you’ve always wanted that we have,” he said. “There’s two things you want to do, and that’s one, you want to be right by God and you want to do right by your parents. That’s all we wanted to ever do.”
Tyler and Henderson were teenagers when they were arrested and charged with murdering Rodney, who according to news reports was caught in the crossfire of rival gangs as he sat on a bicycle in front of his house in the 5100 block of South Winchester Avenue.
Police said information from neighbors led them to Tyler who was then 17 and Henderson who was 18. But the brothers maintained their innocence, before detectives Kenneth Boudreau and James O’Brien allegedly beat false confessions out of them and charged them with first-degree murder.
Boudreau and O’Brien were also accused of beating witnesses who identified the brothers, and of helping a neighbor who witnessed the shooting and named the brothers as suspects.
Henderson alleges he was punched repeatedly and left handcuffed in an interrogation room without food or access to a bathroom. After 48 hours in police custody, Henderson signed a confession.
According to the Sun-Times, one woman told defense lawyers that police told her to identify Tyler and Henderson and paid her $1,100 to move from the neighborhood. The woman has since told investigators that her testimony was true, according to the newspaper.
The brothers’ defense lawyers reportedly said they would ask Judge Reddick not to require them to prove that Boudreau and O’Brien beat their clients, and instead find that a “pattern and practice” of abuse has been proven in over a dozen cases under Commander Burge, who died in 2018.