Free After 23 Years

Another man was also convicted of the same crime

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    NEWSLETTERS

    NBCChicago.com

    Nearly 24 years after he was wrongfully convicted of murder, Michael Tillman is free, and exonerated.

    Tillman served more than two decades in prison for the murder of Betty Howard, a 42-year-old mail clerk whose body was found in a building where Tillman was living. He was 20 at the time.

    "I'm glad justice was done," Tillman said upon his release. "I was a victim too."

    Tillman: "I Took it One Day at a Time"

    [CHI] Tillman: "I Took it One Day at a Time"
    Wrongfully convicted 24 years ago and just now freed, Michael Tillman speaks for the first time.

    His conviction was based on a confession, which he has always contended was coerced through torture by officers working under Commander Jon Burge. Burge is set for a federal trial for perjury and obstruction of justice relating to his time as commander, during the ‘70s and ‘80s.

    Tillman said officers beat him with a phone book, punched him in the face and stomach until he vomited blood; wrapped a plastic bag around his head and poured soda up his nose - a la water boarding.

    "He was held in custody and tortured for three days---mock execution, waterboarded, no food and water ... under the 'henchman' of Jon Burge," his attorney Flint Taylor said at the time.

    Judges, beginning with his initial trial and continuing through his appeals process, dismissed the torture allegations and said his confession stood.

    They held this belief even though another man was caught and convicted of the crime. Clarence Trotter was found with the woman's possessions, and his fingerprints were at the murder scene.

    Tillman tried to appeal after Trotter was convicted, but a judge said Tillman's confession was sufficient to keep him in jail.

    Even though he's been released, and evidence points to another man, Howard's family still believes Tillman is guilty.

    "I'm truly hurt," said daughter Angelita Howard "I will be praying about this because it's unjust. ... It's truly messed up that the police messed up this case and because of that Michael is getting let out."