Lake County prosecutors say DNA evidence not enough to drop charges in North Chicago murder case
The push to free a man who claims he was wrongfully convicted of a grisly North Chicago murder in 2004 hit a snag Tuesday when Lake County prosecutors announced in court they will not drop the conviction against Marvin Williford and would oppose a new trial.
Assistant State's Attorney Ari Fisz said DNA evidence submitted by attorneys trying to free Williford, 43, was not enough to prove he was not involved in the brutal attack on Delwin Foxworth in his home in January, 2000.
It's now up to defense attorneys to file paperwork necessary to have Judge George Bridges rule whether Williford's conviction should be overturned and a new trial granted.
"We are exceedingly disappointed in their decision," said David Owens, an attorney for the Exoneration Project at the University of Chicago Law School. "We feel there was enough DNA evidence to warrant a new trial."
Williford is the latest of several DNA cases the Lake County State's Attorney's Office has had to contend with in recent years. Prosecutors said this one shouldn't be overturned because the "defendant's guilt is clear."
The Chicago man is serving 80 years in prison after he was convicted by a jury in 2004 of breaking into Foxworth's residence, beating him with a wooden board, tying him up with duct tape, then setting him on fire. Foxworth was able to extinguish the flames and walk to a neighbor's house where he called for help, police said.
Foxworth, who was 39, told police three men held him at gunpoint and attacked him to get money, police said. He survived for two years, but died from his injuries in August 2002.
Williford was arrested in February 2003 and convicted of the murder a year later. He has maintained his innocence throughout his arrest and trial.
Defense attorneys focused on the fact Williford's DNA was not discovered on items from Foxworth's home that were tested after the attack.
However, Fisz said a lack of DNA linking Williford to Foxworth's home didn't prove Williford's innocence.
The state's attorney's office conducted an independent investigation of the case and determined Williford was one of three people in the home when Foxworth was set on fire, Fisz said.
"We agreed to all of the DNA testing the defendant wanted. That DNA testing did not demonstrate innocence," he said. "In fact, that DNA testing neither included or excluded that the defendant was one of the three offenders in this case."
The independent investigation included the DNA evidence, Fisz said, but it also included testimony from eyewitnesses regarding motive and witness intimidation. He also said Williford lied about his identity after being picked up by authorities after his arrest.
In addition, Fisz said, defense attorneys turned over a suspect they thought was involved in the attack. However, DNA from that suspect was not recovered from Foxworth's home.
"When examining all the evidence, the defendant's guilt is clear and a new trial is not warranted," he said.
This is the latest of several DNA cases to come through Lake County courts in recent years. Previously, murder cases involving Jerry Hobbs, Juan Rivera and James Edwards, and a rape case against Bennie Starks were overturned because of DNA evidence. This month, former Waukegan resident Angel Gonzalez was freed from prison after officials agreed to drop rape and kidnapping charges after DNA showed he didn't commit the crime.
Owens said in and after court he could not say what his next step would be in the case.
Bridges gave Owens until April 28 to formulate a plan and file the necessary paper work to move the case forward.