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June 20, 2005

The "bad old days" are still with us

The cruel and arrogant incompetence of officials in Will County -- Joliet and environs -- is one more riff on an old, old theme.

But something thoroughly modern -- DNA testing -- has rescued another would-be victim of derelict officials, exposed their frightening shortcomings and, not so incidentally, raised anew the question whether the state can be trusted with the power to execute people.

Key dates in the sad drama:

-- June 6, 2004: Three-year-old Riley Fox of Wilmington, a small Will County town, disappears and her body is found in a creek. The tot had been sexually assaulted. DNA evidence, vaginal fluids and blood found under her fingernails is gathered. Her father, Kevin, voluntarily supplies a DNA sample to police.

-- Oct. 28, 2004: Faced with mounting criticism over the failure to solve the murder, Will County Sheriff's deputies haul in Kevin Fox and question him for 14 and a half hours, after which they announce they've obtained a confession. State's Attorney Jeff Tomczak, days away from an election in which he faces a tough challenge, says he's charging Mr. Fox with his daughter's murder and will seek the death penalty.

-- Oct. 30, 2004: Kevin Fox recants his confession, saying it was obtained by threats and intimidation, and that he was denied a request to call his father, so that his father could contact a lawyer.
-- Nov. 2, 2004: Mr. Tomczak is defeated in his bid for re-election.

-- Nov. 10, 2004: Mr Fox files a federal lawsuit against various county officials alleging they botched the investigation and violated his civil rights.

There the matter rested, more or less, until last week when DNA evidence collected at the crime scene was FINALLY tested. Lo and behold, it didn't come from Kevin Fox. Charges against him were dismissed, officials did what they could do cover their butts and re-opened the investigation.

There's an endless list of questions to be asked.

Most pressing, why wasn't the DNA evidence tested immediately? With a rapist/kid killer on the loose wasn't it imperative to know ASAP whether Mr. Fox was involved? (A family member is always suspect No. 1, it seems.)

Why, four months later, was Mr. Fox charged, with the DNA evidence STILL untested?

And, of course, why did Mr. Fox give police a statement apparently implicating himself in the murder? The answer in his case and a great many others in which DNA evidence has cleared "confessed killers," apparently is that just about anyone will confess to just about anything after 14-plus hours in a room with a bunch of cops determined to extract an admission of guilt.

Former Gov. George Ryan recognized that truth when he decided before leaving office to commute every death sentence pending in Illinois. Now we know that false confessions are not something from the "bad old days." They'll exist as long as we have incompetent cops and politically ambitious prosecutors, and human nature guarantees we'll have those forever.

Mr. Fox's lawsuit against the county is pending.

For more information visit kevinfoxisinnocent.com.

Posted by jcb at June 20, 2005 02:59 PM