Prosecutors drop all charges against man convicted of murder in toddler's death
DuPage County prosecutors Wednesday dropped all charges against a Willowbrook man convicted in 2004 and sentenced to 65 years in prison for the first-degree murder of 2-year-old Steven Quinn.
Leaving the courtroom a free man for first time since being charged in 2002, Randy Liebich, now 39, said he never doubted this day would come but he wasn't expecting it Wednesday.
"I'm feeling a million different emotions right now. I spent 17 years locked up for something I didn't do," Liebich said outside the courtroom. "Now I'm going to leave here and begin rebuilding my life."
Liebich was convicted in a 2004 bench trial of beating the child to death, causing head and abdominal injuries.
DuPage County State's Attorney Robert Berlin said Wednesday that prosecutors cannot meet the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt after considering evidence from the 2004 trial; reviewing testimony from the 2018 post-conviction hearing, in which Judge John Kinsella ruled Liebich, a former Hanover Park resident, deserved a new trial; and reading a letter he received in February from the forensic pathologist who conducted the boy's autopsy.
"While the evidence supports the fact that Steven Quinn died as a result of inflicted blunt-force injuries, the evidence is insufficient to prove Randy Liebich guilty beyond a reasonable doubt," Berlin said. "My decision today does not mean Randy Liebich is innocent, simply that my office cannot ethically proceed to a retrial based on the evidence we currently have."
During a July 16, 2004, bench trial, Liebich was convicted of first-degree murder by now-retired DuPage Judge Ann Jorgensen. The Second District Appellate Court upheld the conviction on Dec. 12, 2007.
Liebich filed a post-conviction petition in which he asserted, in part, that his trial counsel was ineffective. His claims of ineffective assistance centered around medical testimony regarding the timing of injuries Steven suffered in relation to the day Liebich spent watching him while the child's mother was at work.
The trial court denied his petition. On March 28, 2016, the appellate court reversed and remanded the matter for a third stage evidentiary hearing, finding that the trial court erred in dismissing defendant's post-conviction claims of ineffective assistance of counsel concerning the handling of medical evidence.
In its ruling, the appellate court found former Assistant Public Defenders Ricky Holman and John Casey failed to adequately investigate alternate scientific explanations that could have explained the boy's brain and abdominal injuries and, ultimately, his death.
Several experts testified during the 2018 evidentiary hearing, with differing theories on what caused Steven's death.
The former Cook County assistant medical examiner who performed the autopsy, Dr. Darinka Mileusnic-Polchan, said Steven died of multiple injuries due to blunt-force trauma to his head and abdomen. A second expert said the boy's cause of death could only be undetermined.
Others said they believed the boy died of pancreatitis and was not the victim of physical abuse.
In September 2018, he was granted the right to a new trial. Liebich posted 10 percent of his newly set $300,000 bail and has been on GPS-monitored house arrest.
Liebich has been represented in his appeal by the Exoneration Project. His attorney, Tara Thompson, said she and Liebich are grateful the charges were dropped.
"The evidence we presented at the evidentiary hearing shows, without a doubt, that science says that Mr. Liebich is innocent. He did not murder this child, and, in fact, science says that maybe no one did," Thompson said outside the courtroom. "It is gratifying that the state acknowledged this was a case that they should not pursue. It's unfortunate for Randy that it took the better part of two decades to come out, but we're really grateful for today. And I'm grateful that the state recognized, on its own, that it needed to stop the madness on this case."
Thompson said Liebich now has the right to seek a certificate of innocence.
"That's certainly something that we will explore with him when the time is right, but today came as a surprise to us," Thompson said. "First things first, Randy needs to explore his newfound freedom and begin reliving his life."