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Loyola University Chicago

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Paula Gray

PAULA GREY was a key figure in the prosecution of the men known as the Ford Heights Four, who were convicted of the 1978 abduction and murder of Lawrence Lionberg and the murder and rape of Carol Schmal. Gray and the men became suspects in the case after Cook County Sheriff's Police received a tip from Charles McCraney, a man who lived in a run-down public housing development in East Chicago Heights, a poor south suburb of Chicago. Based on McCraney's claim, police questioned Gray, who was only 17 and borderline mentally retarded, over two nights in motels before she confessed to the crimes. Before a grand jury, Gray testified that she had been present when Kenneth Adams, Verneal Jimerson, Willie Rainge, and Dennis Williams repeatedly raped Ms. Schmal and then shot both victims to death.

Gray soon recanted her confession, which contained only two purported facts that were not known to the police (both of which ultimately were shown to have been false). Nonetheless, Gray was charged both with rape, murder, and perjury, and sentenced to 50 years.

Later, DNA evidence established that the Ford Heights Four were innocent of the crimes. They filed civil rights suits against the Cook County Sheriff's Police. Through the discovery process in that litigation, it became apparent that Gray's false confession had been coerced. The police misconduct prompted Cook County to settle the men's claims for $36 million, the largest such settlement in U.S. history.

In July 2001, Gray's conviction was thrown out with a lengthy opinion by Circuit Court Judge William D. O'Neal. The Cook County State's Attorney's Office appealed the ruling, but the appeal was rendered moot in November 2002 when Illinois Governor George H. Ryan granted her a pardon based on innocence. The pardon qualified Gray for approximately $100,000 in automatic compensation from the Illinois Court of Claims and cleared the way for a civil rights claim brought on her behalf to proceed.

Today Paula lives in Illinois with her daughter.

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