CHICAGO — In 1992, a little boy was found dead in a vacant garage, buried under a pile of trash and debris. His family’s last memory of 6-year-old Lindsey Murdock? The first-grader was eating Tootsie Rolls on his grandmother’s front porch, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Mark Maxson of Chicago was convicted and sentenced to life for the killing. But after serving more than two decades in prison, Maxson became a free man this week when his conviction was vacated.
A convicted killer, 42-year-old Osborne Wade, was charged with the crime Tuesday once Maxson’s conviction was thrown out.
Maxson, now 55, is the 15th man in Illinois whose conviction has been vacated after reinvestigations by Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez’s Conviction Integrity Unit, formed in 2012.
Maxson had confessed to the killing, but maintained he was coerced. One of Maxson’s attorneys, Elliot Zinger, says Maxson refused to sign his confession and insisted on writing into the confession that he provided hair and blood voluntarily multiple times to clear his name.
In 2013, the State of Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission found that Maxson’s claim of coercion and torture was credible.
‘No one was listening’
Zinger and Maxson’s other attorney, Larry Dreyfus, said Maxson had gotten nowhere in professing his innocence.
“This case was languishing for years with nothing ever happening,” Zinger said. “He couldn’t ever get a DNA test. No one was listening.”
The attorneys filed a lawsuit against the city Friday, seeking $54 million in compensatory and punitive damages, Zinger said.
Zinger and Dreyfus say it’s common for no one will help in these post-conviction situations, but that Maxson’s case was particularly notable because of the evidence, and how it didn’t connect Maxson to the crime.
“This case really stunk from the very beginning,” Zinger said. “You had the blood from somebody else on a 6-year-old boy, you had the pubic hair from someone else on a 6-year-old boy. This was all trial evidence.”
Zinger says the jury was quick to discount the evidence and bring forward a conviction.
The team got its big break in 2015, when the state’s attorney’s office agreed to new DNA testing on evidence in the case. In May, the Illinois State Police tested Murdock’s clothing and found that DNA on his pants and shirt matched Wade’s DNA.
Zinger says while he’s happy with the outcome, the vacated conviction is bigger than Maxson. “It’s not just one man, it’s a systemic problem. You turn on the TV, and you see an innocent person is freed every week. The system is broken.”
Zinger says Alvarez’s unit is the way of the future, helping to free those wrongfully convicted.
“This is the 15th man that’s been exonerated through the Conviction Integrity Unit. It’s a mark that something is turning. It needs to continue. A prosecutor’s job is to seek truth and justice. I think it’s a major component in making a difference in the system and restoring some public trust in a system that’s shattered right now.”
New suspect confesses
Wade was imprisoned June 30 for failing to register as a convicted murderer who stabbed his uncle to death in the late 1990s. Wade has given a videotaped confession to killing Murdock, and Wednesday, Wade was held without bail for the killing of the 6-year-old.
When reached for comment, Murdock’s father, Lindsey Murdock of Chicago, told CNN that he couldn’t speak about the killing and that it was too upsetting to talk about his son.
“There could be no greater tragedy that I’ve seen in my 14 years on the bench,” Cook County Judge James Brown said at Wade’s bond hearing Wednesday, according to the Chicago Tribune. “It’s beyond belief this kind of situation could happen.”
Unless new information comes forward, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office told CNN, there will be no investigation of the officers who handled Maxson’s confession as there is no evidence it was handled improperly.