In 1978 Paula Gray was accused of being involved in the abduction, and murder of a young couple in Chicago’s Ford Lawrence, Lionberg and Carol Schmal, and the rape of Ms. Schmal. Gray would be wrongfully convicted of murder, rape, and perjury. Gray and four co-accused men became suspects in the case after the police received a tip from Charles McCraney. The Police consequently questioned Gray, who was only 17 years of age at the time and was developmentally delayed. The police would question her for two days before she confessed. Her incriminating statements were the basis of the prosecutions case against her and her four co-accused. Her confession would lead to her conviction and that of the four other co-accused- Kenneth Adams, Verneal Jimerson, Willie Rainge, and Dennis Williams.
Soon after giving her false confession, Gray recanted her. Upon her recantation, however, Gray was charged both with the rape and murders and with perjury. The prosecutor proceeded, despite her recantation and other evidentiary issues. As well as the false confession of Gray, there were issues of limited and dated forensic testing that contributed to the conviction of Gray and her co-accused.
Before a grand jury, Gray would testify 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 was sentenced to 50 years for the murders and 10 years, concurrently, for perjury. Gray’s co-accused would be convicted as well, despite multiple issues with inconsistent evolving witnesses testimony and problematic forensic evidence.
While Gray’s co-accused appealed their convictions with varying degrees of success, evidence surfaced of the existence of a police file showing that, within a week of the crime, a witness had told the police that they had arrested the wrong men. The witness had said he had knowledge of who really committed the crime because he had heard shots, and had witnessed four men run away from the scene. As well, he said that the day following the crimes, he had seen the same men selling items taken from the robbery of the victims. As a result of police and prosecutorial misconduct, however, the report had not been turned over to the defence prior to trial as required by Brady v. Maryland, 373 US 83 (1963). Ultimately three of the four men seen by the witness, confessed to the murders and rape. After which, the results of the DNA testing conclusively established the innocence of the Gray and her co-accused and corroborated the confessions of the newly accused.
Gray’s co-accused would file a civil rights suits against the Cook County Sheriff’s Police. Because of demonstration of Gray’s coerced confession and the police misconduct, Cook County settled claims of the wrongfully convicted men for $36 million, the largest such settlement in U.S. history.
It wasn’t until July 2001, that Gray’s conviction was thrown out. She was ultimately granted her a pardon based on innocence. The pardon qualified Gray for just over $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. On December 18, 2008, the Cook County Board settled the last remaining civil lawsuit and awarded Gray $4 million.