At a hearing in Lake County Circuit Court this morning, Assistant State's Attorney Jeffrey Pavletic filed a motion supporting a request from Edwards' lawyer for a new trial. The prosecutor then filed a motion dropping the murder charges.
The move comes two weeks after prosecutors cited "forensic findings" in announcing new murder charges in the case against 42-year-old Hezekiah Whitfield of Chicago.
Edwards, 63, will not go free immediately, however, because he has yet to serve or successfully fight sentences for an armed robbery in Illinois and a murder in Ohio. He has waged his fight to clear himself of Reckling's murder from Menard Correctional Center downstate.
"(Edwards) has been extremely frustrated, but he is also very happy that he is finally vindicated," said his attorney, Paul De Luca.
The Reckling murder was one of several cases in which Lake County prosecutors continued to insist upon a suspect’s guilt even after forensic evidence appeared to indicate his innocence. Edwards’ case is the fourth to crumble beneath the weight of
In three of those cases, the suspect had confessed to the crime.
Edwards confessed to the 1994 bludgeoning murder of Fred Reckling, 71, after being arrested on an unrelated armed robbery charge in 1996. Lake County State's Attorney Michael Waller personally helped prosecute him.
Prosecutors knew at trial that blood at the scene – Reckling's store, Grand Appliance and TV in Waukegan – matched neither the victim nor the defendant, but they told jurors that didn't clear Edwards because the blood could have come from an appliance store employee with a minor wound.
Edwards was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
Often working as his own attorney, Edwards tried for years to compel DNA testing on the blood over prosecutors’ resistance. In 2010, the
"This thing should have been over a long time ago," De Luca said.
The new defendant, Whitfield, was arrested two weeks ago and a judge ordered him held on $3 million bail.
Two months after Reckling's murder, Whitfield was arrested in connection with multiple armed robberies on the North Shore. He was in prison until he was paroled in July 2009.
Though Edwards has been exonerated of Reckling's murder, he has yet to serve a 60-year sentence in the 1996 armed robbery case.
Today, Judge John Phillips approved a motion to apply the time Edwards spent in jail for murder to the armed robbery sentence. De Luca said he hopes to further shorten the armed robbery term by seeking a new sentencing hearing. The lawyer said the murder cases factored into the length of the armed robbery sentence.
Edwards has been sentenced to life in prison in Ohio in the shooting death of woman outside Cleveland in 1974. He admitted to that crime during the same interrogation session that yielded his apparently false confession in the Reckling case. Edwards says police coerced the confessions during an interrogation that stretched across 25 hours.
Plans are in the works to seek a new trial in the Ohio case, De Luca has said.
"This is a false confession," the lawyer said.
Dan Hinkel is a Tribune reporter; Ruth Fuller is a freelance writer.