Alprentiss Nash murder charges dismissed after 15 years

August 30, 2012 (CHICAGO)

Thursday, Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez says Alprentiss Nash has been cleared of charges after DNA evidence pointed to another suspect.

Nash was convicted in the 1995 slaying of a man in his South Side home.

This is the first murder conviction overturned since the addition of a new unit at the states attorney's office that looks into cases where there are questions about a conviction.

DNA testing over the years has become more and more sophisticated, and so too has our realization that people have confessed to serious crimes when, in fact, they didn't commit them.

Single-witness cases, jailhouse snitches -- a variety of factors -- have led to more thorough reviews of convictions, and from that there is a growing number of people who have been released from prison because the evidence points to someone else, or it doesn't meet guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Alprentiss Nash is the latest.

On April 30, 1995, two men entered a Far South Side home then robbed, shot and killed 54-year-old Leon Stroud. Within hours, police arrested Alprentiss Nash, then 19 years old, who lived less than two blocks away.

Along with another man, Nash was convicted. He has been locked up since.

A ski mask, worn by the killer and found at the scene, was tested for DNA from skin cells. The DNA did not match Nash, but pointed instead to another man, and because of that, the state's attorney says prosecutors can no longer meet their burden of proof in the case, and they are dismissing the charges against Nash.

"I can't tell you with certainty whether he was or wasn't involved, at this point, in the crime," Alvarez said. "The investigation continues, but I would tell you, if we were to retry this case now, we don't believe we could meet our burden against him, that's for sure."

So Alprentiss Nash -- now 37 -- will be released from prison Friday after more than 17 years behind bars.

"I asked him what should I say on your behalf," said Nash's attorney Kathleen Zellner, "and he said, 'Tell them I'm in shock, I'm in disbelief. I'm not mad at anyone, and i just want to get on with my life.' "

Nash now becomes the latest convicted killer to be freed from prison because DNA tests point to someone else. There was Kevin Fox in Will County; Jerry Hobbs in Lake County; Terrill Smith -- among others -- in Cook County.

Many of the DNA exonerations have come after allegedly coerced confessions.

Prosecutors have often resisted post-conviction DNA testing, but the Nash case is the first to come out of a newly created unit set up by the state's attorney's office to review cases where there might be a sliver of doubt.

"The main thing is that when there is question, and it's brought to our attention, and we're being proactive and looking at it, and not just dismissing it," said Alvarez. "And I think that's what we're most proud of, is that we're going to look at these as they come in."

The Cook County state's attorney's "conviction integrity unit" is looking at dozens of felony cases in which inmates are appealing. How many, if any, rise to the level of actual innocence or reasonable doubt is -- at this point -- unknown.

Alprentiss Nash will leave prison Friday in the company of his family and attempt to start a new life.

The skin cell DNA from the ski mask -- a test that wasn't possible in 1995 -- points to another man as the suspected shooter. Prosecutors know who that person is, but for now are declining to identify, discuss details or say whether they anticipate filing charges.

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