A judge ruled Tuesday that a wrongful conviction petition in the high-profile murder case of Marni Yang has merit and can move forward.
Yang, 51, was convicted of murder in 2011 and is currently serving a double life sentence for killing 42-year-old Rhoni Reuter, the pregnant girlfriend of ex-Chicago Bear Shaun Gayle, and her unborn child in 2007.
Yang's defense attorney Jed Stone filed a post-conviction petition in October, citing new evidence in the case he believes could lead to Yang's release from prison or a new trial in her case.
A judge said in a hearing Tuesday that the evidence presented in the more than 700-page petition has merit and can move forward. State prosecutors said they want to file a motion to dismiss the petition, and have until Feb. 20 to do so.
Another status hearing in the case was set for Jan. 15.
"This case is a classic recipe for a wrongful conviction," Yang's attorney Jed Stone said.
When filing the petition earlier this year, Yang's legal team said new forensic evidence and "never heard before recordings" were found in a three-year investigation involving a "team of pre-eminent forensic scientists, crime scene analysts, ballistic and firearm experts, investigators, audio and videotape analysis and DNA experts."
At the time of her trial, prosecutors said jealousy was the motive for the killing.
Gayle admitted in the trial that he had a sexual relationship with Yang and that they had sex the night before the murder. Prosecutors contend Yang carried out the killing because she was jealous of Reuter’s pregnancy and long-time relationship with Gayle, a member of the 1985 Super Bowl-winning team.
In court-authorized recordings, Yang purportedly told a friend she wanted to eliminate the competition.
Months before the shooting, Yang had purchased books with instructions on making a homemade silencer and then bought the materials to do so at a Home Depot store, prosecutors said.
A computer forensic agent also testified that a search of Yang's workplace computer revealed a MapQuest record of directions to Reuter's Deerfield home.
The trial and Yang’s conviction in 2011 drew national media attention and spurred a sensationalized TV “re-enactment” of the crime.
Yang's attorneys have been fighting the conviction for years, ordering DNA tests in 2014 on shell casings from the bullets used to kill Reuter.
“I know her trial was highly watched, and the evidence seemed overwhelming,” Stone said at the time. “But we are on a truth-seeking mission.”
According to the results of the recent investigation, Yang could not have been the shooter "based on the trajectory of the bullets fired," attorneys argued.
They said reconstruction and "previously unseen photos of the crime scene" indicate the shots were fired from someone "much taller in height than Marni Yang" and new testing indicates only DNA from a male was found at the scene.
They also claim forensic evidence refutes a theory that a silencer was used in the shooting, claiming the suggested silencers could not have been mounted on the gun used to kill Reuter.
Attorneys also said newly-obtained audio of a phone call between Yang and a friend "indicate she was going to make up a story about committing the crime and why."
Yang's father and children also attended the news conference and said the mother confessed to the crime because police were pressuring her children.
"As in many false confession cases, the challenge for me was to compare the story she told her friend with the immutable, true facts of the crime," Stone said. "And when they didn't mesh, we knew it was a false confession."
Yang is being held at the Dwight Correctional Center and is ineligible for parole if her remaining appeals prove unsuccessful.