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Terrill Swift was 17 years old in March 1995 when he was brought to a Chicago police station and accused of a heinous rape and murder that he did not commit. He was isolated from his family and relentlessly interrogated by multiple police officers until he gave in and adopted the story that the police were telling him.
Swift’s confession led to his wrongful conviction, and he spent the next 15 years and two months in prison. Three other innocent teenagers confessed and were convicted of the same crime. In January 2012, Swift and his co-defendants’ convictions were vacated when DNA identified the true rapist and killer.
Swift told his story at the American Bar Association’s Ninth Annual Summit on Indigent Defense Improvement during the ABA Midyear Meeting on Feb. 8 in Chicago.
“My understanding was the police were going to help me,” Swift said, recalling how he voluntarily contacted the police when an acquaintance told him that he was being sought for questioning. “I had no idea I would spend 15 ½ years in prison.”
His lawyer, Joshua Tepfer of Northwestern University’s Center on Wrongful Convictions, spoke before Swift, detailing the case’s progression. Tepfer explained that more became known about the case and wrongful convictions in general, including the use and value of DNA evidence, in the years since Swift’s arrest.