Man who spent 27 years in prison exonerated of friend’s murder

By: Leeann Shelton, Chicago Sun-Times: August 14th, 2015

A man who spent 27 years in prison for the 1980 slaying of his childhood friend was exonerated Thursday of criminal charges in the case.

Daniel Andersen was convicted of attempted rape and murder in the fatal stabbing of his childhood friend, Cathy Trunko. But he continued to work to clear his name after being released from prison in 2007.

In July, Andersen won a major legal victory when Cook County Judge Alfredo Maldonado vacated Andersen’s conviction and ordered a new trial based on DNA test results.

On Thursday, prosecutors formally dropped all charges against Andersen, according to a statement from Northwestern University. He was represented by the university’s Exoneration Project, as well as its law school’s Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth.

According to court records, Chicago Police officers recovered a knife a block from the scene of the Jan. 19, 1980, killing in the 4900 block of South Paulina.

But according to his attorneys, new DNA testing showed blood on the knife was not the victim’s. DNA evidence under her fingernails also excluded Andersen, the attorneys said.

In his ruling, Maldonado called Andersen’s exclusion as a source of the DNA “an extraordinary compelling fact that casts doubt on his involvement in the victim’s death.”

The knife was the “linchpin” of the state’s case against Andersen, but the DNA tests undermined the theory that it was the murder weapon, the judge added.

Andersen, then 19, confessed to using the knife to kill Trunko, but during his trial he said police beat him into confessing. A friend also gave him an alibi.

His attorneys also have maintained the confession was false, and that Andersen was sleep-deprived and drunk when he confessed after 16 hours of police interrogation.

Before the ruling, the conviction had hindered Andersen’s ability to find a job and housing, and he was required to register as a sex offender.

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