June 29, 2017
DNA Frees Prisoner After 30 Years Behind Bars For Rape And Murder

Christopher Abernathy spent the last 30 years behind bars for a crime he didn't commit. DNA evidence cleared Abernathy of the crime for which he was imprisoned.

The 48-year-old Illinois man confessed in 1985 to killing 15-year-old Kristina Hickey, in Park Forest, Illinois. According to Reuters, prosecutors "vacated" charges against him, and Abernathy was released.

Abernathy was serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole for the slaying of the Rich East High School sophomore whose "body was found in the bushes outside a Park Forest shopping center," as described the Chicago Tribune.

Cook County State's Attorney, Anita Alvarez, started the "Conviction Integrity Unit" in 2012 which is focused on reviewing cases in which the convictions may be suspect. At the time of Abernathy's conviction, scientific advances such as DNA did not exist. Many cases, such as Abernathy's are being reviewed.

More than a year had passed after the murder before Abernathy was arrested. He had actually dated Hickey when he was 17. A friend of Abernathy's told police that he had confessed to killing Hickey.

The police interrogated Abernathy for 40 hours until he eventually agreed to sign a statement implicating himself, as per the Chicago Tribune.

Court records reveal that Abernathy confessed that he walked up to Hickey on the street as she was headed home that night. He attempted to have sex with her and "accidentally killed her with a butterfly knife."

Abernathy's lawyer, Lauren Kaeseberg, as Reuters explains, reveals that Abernathy was known to have"documented learning disabilities" and dropped out of school at the age of 15. It is believed by the prosecutors that Abernathy may have suffered from a "diminished mental capacity," and had been affected by the grueling hours of interrogations.

Alvarez's office tested all the available DNA, and determined that none of it matched the DNA of Christopher Abernathy.

Kaeseberg reveals that the key witness has also recanted his statement that Abernathy confessed the crime to him. She is sympathetic for the ordeal Abernathy and his family has faced over the years.

"Our client has maintained he was innocent of this horrendous crime from the moment he was arrested in 1985 — he has fought to clear his name for the last three decades and his family, who never stopped believing in him, is elated to bring him home today. He was only 17-years-old at the time this crime occurred, and 18-years-old when he was arrested. He has been through an unimaginable ordeal, but we are so thankful that justice has finally arrived for Mr. Abernathy."
Alvarez is thankful that the evidence was able to free a wrongfully imprisoned man, as she told Reuters.
"This is difficult for all parties including the victim's family, but I cannot and will not let a wrongful conviction stand."
Abernathy's mother, Ann Kolus, visited her son weekly at the prison, and is thankful that she has lived to see him freed since she is in severe bad health, as reported by the Chicago Tribune.
"This day is more than 10,000 days overdue. I always knew in my heart that Chris was innocent, and I'm so thankful that my prayers have been answered and he is finally coming home. "
[Photo Credit: MSN.com]