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Article updated: 10/13/2011 10:36 PM

Man convicted in 1994 Waukegan murder sues police

By Paul Biasco

Attorneys for a man convicted in the 1994 murder of a Waukegan businessman have filed a lawsuit against Waukegan police officers in the wake of new DNA testing, which disputes evidence used against him.

James Edwards, 62, has spent the last 178 months behind bars after being sentenced in the beating death of Fred Reckling, based on a signed confession.

The lawsuit filed in federal court Thursday claims Waukegan police officers physically and psychologically abused Edwards during the 26-hours between his arrest and signature on a typed confession.

The lawsuit alleges officers threatened to kill Edwards and make his death look like a suicide if he did not admit to the murder of Reckling and a second murder of a 1974 murder of a Cleveland, Ohio, woman.

Edwards was arrested more than a year after the murder during an armed robbery at a Waukegan hotel. During his interrogation, he admitted to robbing a bank in downtown Waukegan and the two murders, according to police.

Video surveillance of the bank robbery later showed Edwards was not the suspect, and charges were not filed, according to the lawsuit.

Edwards, who has an extensive criminal history, was sentenced to life in prison in 1996 in the murder of Reckling, who was beaten inside his Grand Appliance store.

Blood found on the steering wheel, driver's seat and driver's side door of Reckling's car, which was stolen after the murder, did not match Edwards'. During the trial, prosecutors argued it was likely from one of the business's employees, who testified that they frequently cut themselves on the job and drove Reckling's car.

Recent DNA tests from the vehicle and from inside the store revealed the blood matched a felon's who is currently serving a 30 year sentence.

The lawsuit alleges the DNA matches that of a man charged with armed robberies that occurred in Wilmette and Evanston just weeks after the Reckling homicide.

The suit argues that there is no plausible explanation for the DNA of that suspect to be present in the vehicle.

The State Supreme Court ordered the DNA testing of the blood in March, and results were made available to prosecutors in June.

Prosecutors attempted to withhold those results from Edwards' attorneys, but a judge in September said "it will be pretty tough" to convince him otherwise. It is not clear when defense attorneys were informed of the DNA match.

The case is being reinvestigated and at least one witness has been brought before a grand jury, said Assistant State's Attorney Michael Mermel.

Four Waukegan police officers and the city are named in the suit, which claims the officers conspired against Edwards to close out unsolved crimes.

The lawsuit alleges Edwards was not read his Miranda rights and was not provided with an attorney during the questioning.

Kathleen T. Zellner, who is representing Edwards, recently filed a similar lawsuit on behalf of Jerry Hobbs, who was falsely accused of killing his 8-year-old daughter and her 9-year-old friend in 2005.

DNA evidence linked another man to the crime more than fives years after Hobbs had been locked up. The lawsuit names the Lake County Major Crimes Task Force, including three Waukegan officers, two Lake County sheriff's deputies, one Vernon Hills officer and one Zion officer.

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