An Illinois man whose 1994 murder conviction was based on shoddy ballistic evidence wants his case dismissed on the eve of his retrial after allegations of police and prosecutorial misconduct surfaced.
Patrick Pursley, left, talks in his attorney’s office in Chicago June 28, 2017. (File photo: AP)
Lawyers for Patrick Pursley, 52, will argue their request for dismissal Tuesday, the day the trial had been scheduled to begin in Winnebago County Court. Pursley’s motion cites “due process violations, including failure to disclose significant exculpatory evidence.”
Pursley won a new trial last year after additional ballistic testing proved the gun used to convict him in 1994 for 22-year-old Andy Ascher’s death wasn’t the homicide weapon. The case took a twist last week when James Brun, the assistant state attorney handling the case, disclosed during a pretrial hearing that the victim’s mother told his predecessor a year ago that she believed police planted the firearm.
That information had never been disclosed to Pursley’s attorneys until last week.
“I can confirm it relates to allegations of police and prosecutorial misconduct,” said Andrew Vail, one of Pursley’s attorneys, when asked if the motion was related to Brun’s court revelation. He said he could not comment further or offer details of their motion until it’s heard in court.
Katie Zimmerman, a spokeswoman for the Winnebago state’s attorney, confirmed Pursley’s motion had been filed, but said her office “can’t comment on this or any other pending cases at this time.”
A judge granted Pursley a new trial in April 2017. It happened only after Pursley lobbied lawmakers from prison to change state law to allow him to use the Integrated Ballistic Identification System to retest the shell casings used to prosecute him. IBIS, which became available five years after his conviction, compares high-resolution, multi-dimensional images of shell casings to find markings unique to a specific weapon. In Pursley’s case, it failed to match the gun police took from him to the bullets that killed Ascher.
Pursley’s case is the first to make it this far using the Illinois law, and the outcome could help pave a new path to challenge convictions that relied on a flawed process for analyzing ballistic evidence — a practice that has drawn more scientific scrutiny over the past two decades.
Winnebago County prosecutors maintained it was Pursley who fatally shot Ascher in Rockford, Illinois, during a robbery as he sat in a car with his girlfriend on April 2, 1993.
To convict Pursley, prosecutors relied on the shell casings recovered from the scene, which one of their experts testified could only have come from a gun police recovered from Pursley. That was the only physical evidence prosecutors had connecting Pursley to the crime.
Pursley represented himself for years during his appeals before Northwestern University’s Center on Wrongful Convictions, and the law firm Jenner and Block, took on his case for free.
“I had no idea that this day would come,” Pursley said in an interview last week. “I just knew what I had to do to get to this day.”
Pursley has been free on bail since April 2017 and has had speaking engagements at higher education institutions in Illinois, talking about wrongful convictions and addressing gang violence. He’s launched a nonprofit, called “I Am Kid Culture,” dedicated to encouraging youths to go to college and avoid a life of crime. And he’s built a recording studio in the basement of his Rockford home to develop a talent agency for urban youth interested in music.
When Pursley was a teenager, his mother gave custody of him to the state and he spent time in foster homes and group homes, eventually ending up in Rockford. There, he joined a gang and was frequently in trouble with police. That’s why the projects he’s now working on are so important to him, he said.
“I know that gang activity played a large role in my demise as a teenager and into my 20s,” he said. “I just want to be able to help turn that cycle around for others who might be living in these circumstances.”