Center On Wrongful Convictions Notches Another Win...
WOMAN CONVICTED OF MURDER IN 2009 FOUND NOT GUILTY
Chicago, IL (Nov. 9, 2017)—Northwestern University, currently a defendant in a lawsuit alleging misconduct in several wrongful conviction cases, garnered the release of another convicted murderer last week.
The Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law—together with three pro bono attorneys from the Chicago law firm Neal, Gerber & Eisenberg—racked up another win last week with a not-guilty verdict following the retrial of Kerry Masterson on a murder charge.
Masterson was convicted by a Cook County jury in 2011 of the murder two years before of Michael Norton, 55, a single father and longtime owner of Norton’s Sweet Shop, a candy store at the corner of North and Cicero Avenues in Chicago. She originally was sentenced to 58 years in prison and had served eight years until last week when jurors—following an hour of deliberations—acquitted Masterson of fatally shooting Norton and sent her home.
For Brittany Norton, the now-grown only child of Mr. Norton who had sat through the three-day trial, the verdict came as a horrific blow. “It was a terribly sad day,” said Brittany.
Despite the verdict, Norton maintains that Masterson committed the murder.
“Masterson was responsible for my father’s death. There were multiple witnesses who testified to that fact. Now, we have a silly appeals decision and we have to live with it and go through a second trial.”
At Masterson’s original trial, two co-defendants—Elvin Payton and Beatrice Rosado, who had already pleaded guilty to murdering Norton—abruptly contradicted videotaped statements they had given to police investigating the murder.
Rosado, 26, sentenced to 22 years in prison, testified that she was “going along with a lie” when she told police she saw Masterson running out of Norton’s shop. She said police showed her a portion of Payton’s confession and pressured her to corroborate his version of events.
However, three witnesses who had testified at Masterson’s original trial also returned to the stand and again identified Masterson as the individual they saw running from Norton’s store after he was fatally shot.
Northwestern attorneys Karen Daniel and Andrea Lewis began investigating Masterson’s case in 2014 and agreed to take over the appeal of her conviction—one of the first accepted by the Center’s Women’s Project.
The appeal was granted based on arguments by experts who claimed that eyewitness testimony is unreliable. The court agreed and paved the way for a new trial.
For police and prosecutors, already straddled with high crime rates and cases, the ruling about eyewitness testimony affords wrongful conviction law firms and law professors another avenue to overturn convictions, leading to a high burden for prosecutors having to retry cases decades later.