Three men convicted of the 2002 murder of an 8-year-old Rockford boy were largely found guilty as a result of the investigative work of one Rockford police detective. But in an odd twist of fate, the very detective who helped convict the men is now speaking out on their behalf.
Former Rockford police detective Doug Palmer was assigned the DeMarcus Hanson case in early hours of the morning of April 14, 2002. DeMarcus was shot in the head while sleeping in his grandmother's Rockford home. Juries were led to believe that gang members Anthony Ross, TyJuan Anderson and Lumont Johnson committed the murder in as a result of a dispute between rival gangs.
The men had served more than 10 years of their 50 year prison sentences before Winnebago Chief Judge Joseph McGraw overturned their convictions in February 2013. Based on evidence gathered by the men's attorneys, McGraw granted them a new trial. Winnebago County State's Attorney Joe Bruscato's office has appealed the judge's decision.
"If there is anything this case proves is that the justice system is broken, " Doug Palmer told NBC5 Investigates. Palmer said that he began his Rockford police career with good intentions but ended ten years of duty with a conscience more guilty than three men he helped convict.
"I am only concerned about how one person judges me and that's how god judges me on judgment day," Palmer added. Palmer worries that the judgment will be harsh for what he did to send the men to prison for a murder that he knew they didn't commit.
"I slapped Anthony Ross. I slapped TyJuan Anderson a couple of times," Palmer said. He also said he threatened witnesses, fabricated statements and at one point, handcuffed a mother and left her crying baby on the floor-all in an attempt to get a forced confession.
"I think about that stuff on a daily basis, " Palmer said. Palmer said that he thinks about the fact false statements he coerced helped convict men he believed were innocent. He admits that the men were gang members with rap streets but Palmer says the real evidence pointed to two other men his superiors believed would be harder to convict.
"You do what you are told or you pay the price, "Palmer said. " You have to go along or you're in a lifeboat all by yourself."
Palmer said he kept the code of silence for years and acknowledges he witnessed many things. "You had guys that would walk around with jail photos of people they had beaten as jail trophies," Palmer said. Palmer says he never stopped it and never stood up in court when the guilty verdicts were handed down. He watched the reaction of Lumont Johnson's mother.
"I will never forget that look on her face, never." Palmer said.
Palmer left the police department and men were sent to jail to serve out their 50-year sentences. On appeal, lawyers for the men tracked Palmer down and this time he agreed to testify in their defense.
"Who's always going to win in court?" Palmer asks. "The police are because people believe the police. "
When asked if people should, Palmer responded, "Not all the time."
The city of Rockford says it reviewed the allegations made by Palmer but was not able to substantiate them.
Palmer resigned from the Rockford police department in 2004 after allegations of an inappropriate relationship with an police informant. In McGraw’s court ruling, he did not find Palmer’s testimony credible but ruled for a new trial based on other evidence.
The next court date is set for January 14, 2014.