Falsely accused fathers urge mandatory DNA testing, death penalty repeal

The most terrible of accusations united Jerry Hobbs and Kevin Fox, and the most fundamental scientific evidence exonerated them.

Hobbs, formerly of Zion, was charged with the 2005 murder of his 8-year-old daughter, Laura, and her 9-year-old friend Krystal Tobias. Fox, of Wilmington, was charged with the 2004 death of his 3-year-old daughter, Riley.

DNA testing eventually cleared both men. Hobbs was released last year after spending five years in a Lake County jail while Fox was released from his Will County cell after eight months in custody.

On Friday, the men met for the first time at the Oak Brook office of their attorney, Kathleen Zellner. United in a common cause, they expressed their support for the repeal of Illinois' death penalty and to advocate for mandatory DNA testing they say would ensure that no one else endures a false accusation and incarceration.

A proposed law to ban the death sentence in Illinois was just passed by the state legislature and awaits action by Gov. Pat Quinn's. He has not said whether he will sign it into law.

Both Hobbs and Fox believe they may have been subjected to the death penalty had their cases gone to trial, Zellner said. Their combined experience of being incarcerated, charged with such a heinous crime and having to “live with that stigma every day,” shaped their shared opposition to the death penalty, Zellner said.

“They think a natural life sentence without parole is a more difficult sentence than death,” she said.

Hobbs and Fox believe political considerations may determine prosecutors' decision to seek the death penalty, Zellner said, adding that there is “a randomness to it.” For example, a capital-eligible defendant may face the death penalty in one jurisdiction and not another, Zellner said.

“I think the stronger point they made is about DNA testing,” said Zellner, adding that state money would be better spent on reliable scientific testing than in housing death row inmates. Both men believe a suspect's DNA should be tested by private labs and not the Illinois State Police Crime Lab, which, besides having a backlog, did not possess the technology to test evidence in the Fox case, and which missed DNA evidence in Hobbs' case, Zellner said.

She claims a private lab recovered the DNA evidence that led to the arrest of convicted sex offender Scott Eby for the death of Riley Fox. Eby pleaded guilty last year and was sentenced to life in prison. Authorities say DNA linked former Zion resident Jorge Torrez to the scene where the bodies of Laura Hobbs and Tobias were found. Torrez is jailed in Virginia, where he was convicted of two sex offenses, but has not been charged in the Zion case.

Kevin Fox