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Appellate Court Rules Murder Conviction Based on “Nonsense”

Posted on Apr 02, 2015

A recent ruling by U.S. Appeals Court Judge Richard Posner begs the question: How often are murder convictions based on “nonsense?”

Lawrence Owens, age 42, has spent the last 14 years in prison for the brutal murder of Ramon Nelson in 1999. Nelson was bludgeoned to death while riding his bike away from a liquor store in Markham, Illinois.

Nelson had 40 bags of cocaine in his coat when he was killed, leading some to believe his murder was gang related. However, there was no evidence that Owens used or sold drugs, participated in gang activities, or even knew Nelson.

In 2000, Cook County Judge Joseph Macellaio, now deceased, found Owens guilty of murder in a bench trial and claimed Owens knew Nelson was a drug dealer and “wanted to knock him off.” Two eyewitnesses identified Owens as the perpetrator, but their testimony was so unreliable that Judge Macellaio didn’t even reference it while announcing his verdict.

Nearly 15 years later, Judge Richard Posner has reversed that decision calling it a serious mistake based on “nonsense.” Judge Posner went so far as to say, “The judge made it up.”

Currently, the Illinois Attorney General’s office is reviewing the case and might appeal the decision. In the meantime, Lawrence Owens remains locked up for a crime he may not have committed.

One can’t help but wonder how often something like this happens. According to the National Registry of Exonerations, more and more examples of wrongful convictions are being discovered. In 2013, in the midst of a nationwide push to re-examine possible wrongful convictions, a record 87 falsely accused people were exonerated.

It wouldn’t be fair to say that every wrongful conviction is based on “nonsense.” But wrongful convictions typically result from factors such as eyewitness misidentification, false confessions or flawed forensic evidence.

However, in the case of Lawrence Owens, the judge appears to have convicted him without any evidence at all. Mistakes are inevitable, but something as baseless as this is inexcusable.

In addition to serving personal injury clients, Hupy and Abraham has also pursued justice on behalf of people wronged by the legal system. In 2009, the firm obtained a $3 million verdict for a man rendered a quadriplegic by Milwaukee police.