Savory Files Court Documents as Proof of Innocence
Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth client cites new DNA results in wake of his pardon
CHICAGO -- Nearly four decades after his arrest for the 1977 murders of Connie Cooper and James Robinson in their own home, Johnnie Lee Savory, a client of Northwestern University School of Law’s Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth, is asking a Peoria County judge to vacate his convictions for these offenses.
In lengthy court pleadings unsealed this week, Savory says that the results of DNA testing ordered by the Peoria County Circuit Court more than a year ago prove what he has always maintained -- his innocence.
The filing comes in the wake of outgoing Gov. Pat Quinn’s pardon of Savory for the double-homicide. While the pardon entitles Savory to expunge these convictions from his record, he wishes to clear not only his record but his name. He remains committed to proceeding in court to prove his innocence.
Savory and his attorneys had fought for DNA testing for almost two decades, starting almost immediately after DNA technology began to be used in criminal investigations. On Aug. 6, 2013, a Peoria County judge granted Savory’s request, noting in a 15-page written order that the requested testing had the “scientific potential to significantly advance Savory’s assertion of innocence.”
The Illinois State Police tested several pieces of key evidence, including a small speck of blood recovered from a light switch plate in the bathroom of the home. At both of Savory’s two trials, prosecutors contended that the male victim’s blood was transferred to the bathroom light switch plate from the perpetrator’s bloody hands as he went to wash up after the murders.
The recent DNA testing reveals a second, unknown profile mixed with the male victim’s -- a DNA profile that does not belong to Savory.
“There is foreign DNA mixed with James Robinson’s blood on the exact tiny spot that the prosecution has long maintained the perpetrator placed there,” said Joshua Tepfer, Savory’s attorney from the Law School’s Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth. “The DNA profile is not the female victim’s. It is not anyone else’s living or staying in the home. And it is not Mr. Savory’s. It is the killer’s DNA -- and these results prove that killer is not Johnnie Lee Savory.”
The new DNA evidence also includes testing on seminal fluid from a rape kit taken from the female victim -- evidence that also excludes Savory. Given the Peoria Police Department’s initial suspicions that the attack against Connie Cooper was sexually motivated -- a powerful theory given that the female victim’s nightgown was pulled above her waist, her underwear was torn, her blood was found all over her bed sheets and her rape kit contained seminal fluid -- these new DNA results provide further compelling evidence of his innocence.
The court’s 2013 ruling also ordered testing on a variety of other pieces of physical evidence, although no DNA results could be obtained from most of these items.
“Time causes DNA to degrade,” noted Tepfer, who added, “we’ll never know whether DNA could have identified the true perpetrator had the state simply agreed to do the testing two decades ago when requested.” Savory’s court filings further note that hairs found in the victims’ hands -- hairs which long ago excluded Savory -- were lost while in State custody.