Cook County prosecutors have vacated the convictions of three of the five black men known as the Dixmoor Five who were serving prison time for a 1991 murder. Prosecutors plan to dismiss the convictions of two others who have already served time. When they were convicted, three of the young men were 14 years old, and the other two were 16.

The development, which comes after new DNA evidence connected another person to the murder, is being applauded by civil rights groups as proof that legal and community advocacy can correct gross injustices.

The Chicago Tribune reports:

In a new round of DNA tests last month, a lab was able to isolate a single genetic profile from the swabs taken at the time of the rape and murder. When the Illinois State Police uploaded it into a database, it matched the DNA profile of a man who was 33 at the time of the 1991 murder — much older than those five teens. At the time, he had already been convicted of a sexual assault and recently paroled near where Matthews lived …

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The five men were convicted of the rape and murder of Cateresa Matthews, who disappeared after leaving her grandmother's home in Dixmoor on Nov. 19, 1991. Almost three weeks later, she was found dead from a single gunshot to her mouth in a field near Interstate Highway 57. The five men were arrested after the crime went unsolved for about a year.

Three of the teens confessed and implicated the other two in the murder. But the confessions, lawyers said, were marked by inconsistencies. What's more, DNA tests on semen evidence did not match any of the five. However, two of the suspects, Robert Lee Veal and Shainnie Sharp, agreed to plead guilty and testify against the other three in exchange for reduced 20-year prison sentences. Each served about 10 years in prison, according to records.

Rashad Robinson, executive director of ColorOfChange.org, where nearly 65,000 members demanded that the convictions be vacated, said today, "We are relieved by Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez's decision to vacate these convictions and urge her to do the same for the Englewood 5." Robinson continued, "DNA evidence has proven the innocence of all 10 black men who were only children when they were forced by Illinois police to confess to murders they didn't commit. This is an opportunity for Alvarez to make it clear that forced confessions and wrongful convictions have no place in law enforcement."

Read more at the Chicago Tribune.

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