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(AP) — An Illinois judge ordered an investigation Tuesday into allegations that Rockford police intentionally gave prosecutors the wrong gun to send a man to prison for more than two decades for murder.
Winnebago County Judge Joseph McGraw gave the order the day Patrick Pursley’s retrial was slated to start. He was convicted in 1994 for the murder of Andy Ascher, 22, during a robbery in Rockford, but last year Pursley, 52, won a new trial because ballistic testing proved the gun prosecutors used as evidence was not the homicide weapon.
The allegations against police arose after Ascher’s mother informed prosecutors a detective said to her after Pursley’s first trial that investigators never found the gun used to kill her son. She told prosecutors about the information last year after a judge ordered a new trial, but it was not disclosed to Pursley’s attorneys until days before the retrial was set to begin.
Now, prosecutors and the Rockford police department must turn over all paper and electronic records that mention Pursley’s case by Dec. 20, when an evidentiary hearing is scheduled. Pursley’s attorneys have also asked for the personnel records of the detectives who investigated Ascher’s death
But, in the meantime, defense lawyers want the case dismissed, citing misconduct by police and prosecutors.
“His life should not continue to be hijacked by their misconduct,” Andrew Vail, one of Pursley’s attorneys, argued in court.
Assistant state attorney James Brun agreed to the investigation into whether the detective’s statement to Ascher’s mother is true, but he pushed back on the request to dismiss the case entirely.
“The credibility of the statement needs to be determined before the court makes an appropriate ruling,” Brun said.
Rockford police spokeswoman Laura Madher did not immediately return a call for comment.
Pursley spent years representing himself during his prison sentence and successfully lobbied state lawmakers to pass legislation that would 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.
“I’m grateful but I’m also just dismayed,” Pursley said after Tuesday’s hearing. “I feel like this is never going to stop.”