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After 2 Death Sentences, Man Acquitted in 3rd Trial : Courts: Defendant had been imprisoned for 11 years after Illinois girl's murder. No physical evidence or eyewitnesses linked him to the killing.

November 04, 1995|From Associated Press

WHEATON, Ill. — A man who was twice convicted and sentenced to die in the kidnaping and slaying of a 10-year-old girl was freed Friday after a judge acquitted him in his third trial.

The ruling came nine days after the prosecution opened its case against Rolando Cruz, who was imprisoned for 11 years in the 1983 abduction and murder of 10-year-old Jeanine Nicarico.

Members of Jeanine's family broke into tears at the verdict, while Cruz's relatives also cried.

"I knew my son was innocent all the time and I knew this day had to come, and had to come soon, but it took so long," said Dora Cruz, Rolando's mother.

"It's a great day for the system, because it showed that the system can fail miserably for 12 years, but ultimately it can prevail," said defense lawyer Lawrence Marshall.

Cruz walked out of the DuPage County Jail shortly before 6 p.m.

Juries have twice convicted Cruz, 32, for Jeanine's murder, both times sentencing him to death. Each time, the Illinois Supreme Court overturned the conviction.

No physical evidence or eyewitnesses linked Cruz to the killing. But prosecutors alleged he made incriminating statements to police and informants.

The prosecution contended that Cruz, convicted child-killer Brian Dugan and others burglarized the Nicarico home in Naperville, found the 10-year-old girl home sick from school and decided to abduct her.

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Dugan, serving life for two rapes and murders, one of them involving a 7-year-old girl, claimed in 1985 that he alone killed Jeanine and provided unsettling details of that day nearly three years earlier.

But he wouldn't confess in court and his words couldn't be used against him unless prosecutors guaranteed they wouldn't seek the death penalty. They refused, noting his inconsistent statements and suggested he could have culled details from the trial and news reports.

Cruz's co-defendant, Alejandro Hernandez, also was twice convicted. Both convictions were overturned and Hernandez is awaiting a retrial.

The tangled case won Cruz the support of law school deans, religious leaders and newspaper columnists.

Critics suggested that ambitious prosecutors and police were so eager to solve the crime they simply rounded up small-time troublemakers and framed them, then spent the next decade trying to cover up the injustice.

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