Court: New trial for man convicted of killing 10-year-old girl

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - The state Supreme Court overturned the conviction of a man in the 1987 slaying of a 10-year-old girl, saying the prosecution exaggerated hair and fiber evidence and the defense failed to introduce potentially important testimony.

Prosecutors had argued that tire tracks and footprints linked Cecil Sutherland, a convicted child molester, to the spot in Jefferson County where Amy Schulz was raped and stabbed to death in July 1987. But friends and relatives say Sutherland got the boots and tires after the girl's death.

The court ruled Thursday that Sutherland's lawyer was wrong not to introduce ''evidence discrediting two of the most salient and significant items in the state's case.'' That, plus the prosecution's handling of the hair and fiber evidence, entitle him to a new trial, the court held.

In a dissent, Justice Benjamin Miller found reasons to doubt the evidence on when Sutherland obtained the boots and tires, and said other evidence supports Sutherland's guilt.

Jefferson County State's Attorney Gary Duncan said he will study the ruling before deciding whether to retry Sutherland.

Outrage over the girl's death and Sutherland's prior conviction led to the establishment of the Amy Schulz Child Advocate Center to aid other child molestation victims and help prosecutors get convictions.

In another case Thursday, the court overturned the death sentence against Victor Nieves, saying prosecutors had failed to show that a New York manslaughter conviction made Nieves eligible for the death penalty for a 1992 Chicago murder. But Nieves still faces execution for a separate slaying.

Two other death sentences were upheld.

Illinois has been grappling with the death penalty because of a string of cases where men had been found to have be wrongly convicted.

Gov. George Ryan declared a moratorium on executions in January, citing troubling evidence of coerced confessions, misconduct by prosecutors and incompetent defense attorneys. Illinois has about 160 people on death row but has not executed anyone since March 1999.


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