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The Replacement - The Rise Of Roland Burris

Publication Date: 
March 23, 2009
The New Yorker
Jeffrey Toobin

Professor Lawrence C. Marshall, Associate Dean for Public Interest and Clinical Education, is mentioned in an article in the New Yorker about Senator Roland Burris, who took over President Obama's Illinois Senate seat. The piece discusses Burris' involvement as attorney general of Illinois in a death penalty case for which Professor Marshall served as counsel. The New Yorker writes:

The attorney general of Illinois is required by law to represent the government in all appeals of death sentences. The Nicarico case already had a tangled legal history by the time Burris took it over. Despite great public pressure on authorities to solve the murder, there had been no arrests for more than a year. Eventually, though, Cruz and Hernandez were charged; the case against them was based largely on vague but incriminating statements made by Hernandez. In 1988, the Illinois Supreme Court reversed their convictions, on the ground that they should have been tried separately. Cruz was tried again in 1990 and again convicted and sentenced to death. The appeal reached Burris’s office in 1991. (A second trial of Hernandez ended in a hung jury; a third ended in a conviction and an eighty-year prison sentence.)

Burris had been on the job for less than a year, but it was an open secret that he planned soon to run for governor. Democrats, especially African-Americans, are often challenged to prove their tough-on-crime bona fides to voters, and the Cruz appeal offered Burris a chance to make his mark in a high-profile case.


Cruz’s lawyers, led by Lawrence Marshall, then a law professor at Northwestern University, continued to fight the execution. In 1995, DNA tests excluded Cruz as a source of semen found on Nicarico’s body and implicated Dugan. After a third trial and eleven years in prison, most of them on death row, Cruz was released, as was Hernandez. (Later this year, Dugan will stand trial for Nicarico’s murder.) In 2000, Governor George Ryan declared a moratorium on executions in Illinois, and three years later, just before leaving office, he commuted the sentences of all inmates on death row to life in prison or less, and pardoned Cruz. Ryan has cited the Cruz case as a major factor in changing his thinking about the death penalty. (Ryan is now in federal prison, after being convicted of crimes that took place when he was Illinois’s secretary of state, before his term as governor.)