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Ill. Lawmen Acquitted of Frame-Up

June 5, 1999

WHEATON, Ill. (AP) _ After a three-year investigation and an eight-week trial, four sheriff’s officers and a former prosecutor were acquitted of charges that they conspired to send the wrong man to death row for the killing of a 10-year-old girl.

Four of the defendants were acquitted by the jury Friday after more than 10 hours of deliberations. A fifth defendant, a sheriff’s officer, was acquitted by the judge.

Legal experts said they knew of no other case in which law enforcement officials were prosecuted for carrying out their official duties.

The verdict followed the dismissal of charges last month against two other former county prosecutors accused in the case. The judge ruled that special prosecutor William Kunkle had not presented sufficient evidence against them.

The seven were indicted in 1996 on charges they lied and fabricated evidence against Rolando Cruz, who was twice convicted for the 1983 rape and murder of a 10-year-old girl in the Chicago suburb of Naperville.

``It was a case that had to be tried,″ Kunkle said. ``It was important that it be tried and that these issues get aired and not just be swept under a rug somewhere.″

Cruz spent nearly a decade on death row before he was acquitted in 1995 during his third trial, and charges against a fellow defendant, Alejandro Hernandez, were later dropped.

While on death row, Cruz and Hernandez became the centers of a cause argued by law professors, journalists and death penalty opponents who claimed the evidence against them was fabricated.

Investigators claimed Cruz described having a dream about the crime, but Cruz denied it.

Kunkle accused detectives Thomas Vosburgh and Dennis Kurzawa of concocting the statement, and their supervisor, Lt. James Montesano, of lying to bolster the story. Lt. Robert Winkler was charged with falsely testifying that Cruz made other incriminating statements to him while in jail.

Former assistant state’s attorney Thomas L. Knight was accused of using the detectives’ perjured testimony and lying repeatedly over the years to cover up the scheme.

But defense attorneys accused Cruz of giving different versions of the story.

Sixteen years after the murder, no one stands convicted of the rape and bludgeoning death of 10-year-old Jeanine Nicarico in the Chicago suburb of Naperville.

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