Client of School of Law’s wrongful convictions center cleared of 1980 murder and attempted rape
August 18, 2015
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Daniel Andersen, a client of Northwestern School of Law’s Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth and The University of Chicago’s Exoneration Project, was cleared Thursday of murder and attempted rape convictions for which he spent more than 27 years in prison.
The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office dropped all charges against Andersen following a July 20 decision to vacate Andersen’s convictions based on the results of recent DNA tests.
Andersen was convicted of the homicide of Cathy Trunko, a 20-year-old woman stabbed to death in Chicago on Jan. 19, 1980. Two days after Trunko’s death, police found a bloody knife in a neighbor’s yard and believed it to be the murder weapon. Andersen was arrested for the crime five days later after confessing to killing Trunko with the knife.
Andersen, age 19, was drunk, sleep deprived and had been interrogated by police for 16 hours when he confessed to killing Trunko, according to an NU news release. At his trial, prosecutors argued Andersen’s guilt based on his confession and the blood type on the knife, which matched Trunko’s.
As a result, Andersen was convicted and sentenced to 55 years in prison. He was released in 2007 on parole after serving 27 and a half years.
A connection between Andersen’s cousin, civil litigator Bernard Bobber (School of Law ‘87) and the School of Law led to a reinvestigation of Andersen’s case. Bobber, a former classmate of NU law Prof. Steven Drizin (School of Law ’86) — who was also former legal director of the Center — asked Drizin for help after a clemency petition filed on Andersen’s behalf was denied.
Andersen was represented in court by Drizin, attorneys Megan Crane and Laura Nirider from the Center and attorney Joshua Tepfer from the Exoneration Project.
Tepfer said the Exoneration Project and the Center work on similar cases, helping innocent individuals prove they did not commit the crimes they were incarcerated for.
Drizin said he is unsure whether the Center would have taken Andersen’s case if Bobber had not vouched for his cousin.
“It is doubtful whether any other innocence organization would have taken Daniel’s case because he had already served his time in prison and was out on parole,” Drizin said in a news release. “We made an exception. It was the personal Northwestern connection that made all the difference.”
DNA tests from 2013 to 2015 proved Andersen’s confession was false, Drizin told The Daily. The tests determined neither Trunko’s blood nor Andersen’s DNA was on the knife and made a big difference in Andersen’s case, he said.
“We had done a good job of discrediting the confession and pointing out inconsistencies in the confession with other evidence gathered,” Drizin said. “But the DNA testing essentially proved that … the weapon that the police thought was the murder weapon was not the murder weapon.”
Additional DNA testing found two male profiles under Trunko’s fingernails — neither of them Anderson’s.
“The presence of other men’s DNA under her fingernails made it clear that (Andersen) was not her attacker,” Drizin said.
Although Andersen, now 54, left prison eight years ago, he was required to register as a sex offender. Drizin said he and his partners will work to have Andersen’s records expunged and will file a petition for a certificate of innocence.
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