KANKAKEE — Terrence D. Haynes said he didn’t sleep Sunday night.
Haynes lied awake awaiting his fate as he was soon to learn if his first-degree murder case would be dismissed or headed to a new trial for the May 1999 shooting and killing of Cezaire Murrell.
Haynes had served 20 years of a 45-year sentence, but the Illinois Appellate Court ruled in May 2018 he should be tried again when it was learned a key witness recanted his testimony and some other facts came to light.
On Monday, Kankakee County State’s Attorney Jim Rowe said his office was dismissing the charges.
“It feels great,” Haynes said after the hearing. He had been out on bail since January.
Haynes and his mother, Gail Gray, of Kankakee, walked arm and arm after they left the Kankakee County Courthouse. There were 15 to 20 family and friends in attendance during the hearing that lasted two minutes.
“It’s exciting, and I’m ecstatic right now,” Gray said. “I was just praying for things to work out. God is in control.
“I had a good feeling (today),” she said. “We know the truth. He got railroaded.”
One of Haynes’ attorneys, Shawn Barnett, said even if the case went to trial, he felt strongly Haynes would be found not guilty.
Barnett and Celeste Stack are part of the Chicago firm of Hale and Monico.
“I think this is fantastic for Terrence. He has been fighting for this day for 20 years,” Barnett said. “So many people would give up, but he was firm in his belief.”
In May 2018, the Illinois Appellate Court Third District reversed the guilty verdict and ordered a new trial before Judge Kathy Bradshaw Elliott.
The 42-year-old Haynes was out on bail since January. The case was set to be retried next Monday (June 10).
“It’s a prosecutor’s worst nightmare,” Rowe said of the case. “This is justice.”
“A lot of prosecutors would try and get the conviction,” Barnett said. “We are thankful the state’s attorney looked into the facts of this case.”
In the motion to dismiss, Rowe quotes from the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct: “The duty of a public prosecutor ... is to seek justice, not merely to convict.”
Haynes was convicted in August 2000 of shooting and killing Cezaire Murrell on May 27, 1999, in Kankakee. He was sentenced to 45 years by Bradshaw Elliott.
Marcus Hammond, who the state used as its key witness, recanted his testimony that Murrell did not have a gun when Haynes fired two shots hitting Murrell.
Hammond was 10 years old when the shooting occurred on the porch of his brother’s (Gary Hammond) house.
According to court documents, Hammond told investigators Murrell was armed and going for his gun. Hammond said prosecutors told him to say he did not see Murrell with a gun.
One of the prosecutors on the case, Michael Jeneary, and Marcus Hammond are cousins. This fact was brought up when Haynes filed a motion in 2008 that his due process rights were violated.
Several witnesses to the shooting did not testify during the 2000 trial.
Other evidence came to light when Debra Williams said Murrell left her apartment before the shooting a few blocks away. Williams said Murrell told her he was going to someone’s house to collect some money and showed her a gun in his waistband.
Murrell and Haynes were involved in a fight prior to the May 27, 1999, shooting, according to court documents.
Hale and Monico took the case four years ago.
Barnett said Haynes did a lot of work that helped them.
“Terrence did a lot of the heavy lifting,” Barnett said.
While in prison, Haynes read law books and researched cases.
Asked if he thought of becoming a paralegal, Haynes said, yes.
“There are people I can help. There are good people in (prison),” Haynes said. “I got a bunch of guys I need to thank. They kept me on a straight path.”
Barnett went a step further.
“He would make a good attorney, and I would be proud to practice law with him,” Barnett said.
Barnett said the next legal step will be filing a petition for a certificate of innocence.
The certificate can remove the conviction from a person’s record. If granted, a wrongly convicted person can bring a claim for damages against the state.
Haynes said he is going to travel to see several siblings.
He also will be getting his driver’s license. That might take some time.
While Haynes said it was great to walk out of the courthouse a free man, there are still a couple of traffic tickets left to be paid.
“Those were from 1994,” he said.