Marni Yang's family, on seeking retrial: Police 'manipulated us' in 2007 murder
The now adult children of Marni Yang, convicted in 2011 of killing the pregnant girlfriend of former Chicago Bear Shaun Gayle in the girlfriend's Deerfield home, say they were forced to implicate their mother in the murder by overzealous investigators and prosecutors.
Speaking at a news conference Wednesday in the office of Yang's new attorney, Andrew Yang said his mother was forced to confess to something she did not do after the family was hounded by investigators from the Lake County Major Crimes Task Force.
"They just wanted a conviction," said Andrew Yang, who was 16 at the time and also a target of the investigation. "I don't think any kid at my age should go through what I went through."
Andrew Yang, his twin sister Emily Yang, and Yang's father, Larry Merar, spoke about how the family was manipulated and threatened by investigators to make false statements, and how evidence was fabricated and withheld by prosecutors.
Marni Yang's attorney, Jed Stone, cited this and other new evidence that came to light after her conviction in a 29-page petition filed Tuesday for a retrial. A recording of Yang's confession is a crucial piece Stone said he will use to build his case that Yang did not kill Rohni Reuter, 42, and her unborn child on Oct. 4, 2007.
Lake County state's attorney office spokesman Lee Filas declined to comment on the allegations.
Lake County Major Crimes Task Force spokesman Sgt. Christopher Covelli referred all questions to the Deerfield Police Department as the case was turned over to the department years ago. A Deerfield police official was not immediately available for comment.
The initial investigation of the shooting included circumstantial evidence pointing to Yang, but police said one piece of evidence sealed it for them -- two conversations between Yang and a friend were secretly recorded, and in the tapes, Yang can be heard describing the shooting.
In one of those recordings, Stone claims, Yang can be heard saying she was going to "start making (things) up" before confessing to the murder. It was exculpatory material Lake County prosecutors never presented at trial or turned over to the defense under the rules of evidence, he said.
Family members and Stone claim Yang confessed to protect Andrew Yang, fearing he would be charged with Reuter's murder, and she expected to be exonerated at trial.
"She couldn't stand by and watch them destroy her children, especially Andrew who was close to being suicidal," Merar said.
Stone said Marni Yang knew her friend was wearing a wire.
"Nobody bothered to tell the jury that the confession was made up," Stone said, calling it "a textbook false confession."
He added that there also was forensic evidence that contradicts Yang's confession, specifically photographs of the crime scene that were withheld by the prosecution at trial, and evidence of police misconduct and that the prosecutor knowingly allowed false testimony to reopen the trial.
Among the new forensic evidence Stone cites is an unknown male's DNA discovered on five unspent bullet shells found at the crime scene, the trajectory of the bullets fired contradicting the prosecution's theory of the crime, the misidentification of the rental car Yang was said to have used and that was part of the evidence against her in trial, and evidence being withheld regarding Yang's Beretta pistol, which supposedly was stolen by a family friend five months before the murder.
"Trials are searches for the truth," Stone said. "This is not a game of hide and go seek. This is a game of you got exculpatory evidence, you produce it."
Andrew Yang said the intimidation and harassment by investigators was so damaging he turned to drugs and was on the verge of "ending it all."
Emily Yang said the police "went way too far with us."
"They threatened and manipulated us," she said. "We were only 16 and he (younger brother Brandon) was just 11. They continued to tell me that my brother and my mom committed this crime."
Emily Yang said she was forced by investigators to make a false statement and by the prosecutor to give false testimony at trial about witnessing her mother writing letters to Gayle's 16 other girlfriends.
"Now that we are older, you kind of gain a perspective of what happened and what was done to us," she said, adding media portrayal of her mother as a violent, jealous woman was far from the reality of "the mom we knew."
"She was just a warm person. We just want her life back," she said.
Marni Yang is serving two life sentences in Logan Correctional Center in Lincoln. An appeals court denied her 2013 bid for a new trial. In 2014, a Lake County judge granted Stone's request for new DNA tests on bullet shell casings.