After long legal saga, Gerald Reed acquitted at retrial for double murder

Gerald Reed, who has long alleged he was a victim of police torture, was acquitted Wednesday after a retrial of his double-murder case, killings for which he had spent some three decades in prison.

In a meticulous ruling from the bench, Circuit Judge Steven Watkins said over and over that there was no forensic evidence, no eyewitness evidence, and no murder weapon in evidence that could substantively tie Reed to the 1990 double homicide.

In addition, “there was no evidence of any desire to kill either one of them,” Watkins added. “It appears all of them were friends.”

Reed, who came into the courtroom wearing a neck brace and using a walker, clutched his forehead and wiped his eyes as Watkins delivered his findings. Reed opted to have the judge, not a jury, determine his fate; Watkins’ findings came about a month after closing arguments from Reed’s lawyers and the special prosecutors appointed to handle the case.

Despite the acquittal, however, Reed will remain in custody. He is in the middle of serving a 10-year sentence for a robbery conviction out of Indiana, a case he picked up after Gov. J.B. Pritzker commuted his murder sentence.

Due to that commutation, Reed could not have gone back to prison for the murders even if Watkins had convicted him Wednesday — serving any more time would have violated his constitutional rights.

Elliot Zinger, one of Reed’s attorneys, said the prosecution’s case amounted to “a lot of bells and whistles” with no substance. “Where was the evidence that these two murdered their friends?”

Robert Milan, who led the team of private attorneys appointed to handle the prosecution, said in a statement on behalf of the victims’ families that the verdict was “very disappointing.”

“It is the State’s position that the evidence of Reed’s guilt that was presented at trial was overwhelming. Although we strongly disagree with this verdict, we must accept it and move on,” the statement reads.

Watkins’ finding concludes an extraordinary and strange legal saga. Most of the proceedings in recent years have dealt not with the question of his guilt but whether or not he was tortured into confessing by detectives connected to ex-Cmdr. Jon Burge. Only after an extremely convoluted series of events was that confession officially thrown out by the state’s highest court, paving the way for a retrial.

The trial itself, however, centered on whether Reed was actually involved in the horrific double homicide.

Pamela Powers and Willie Williams were killed in October 1990. Powers, shot twice in the head, was found half-naked and fighting for breath under a viaduct near Englewood’s Kennedy-King College; she was pronounced dead not long afterward. Williams was found fatally shot in Powers’ ransacked apartment. Reed and co-defendant David Turner were arrested not long afterward and found guilty.

In his finding at the retrial Wednesday, Watkins gave little credit to any of the prosecutors’ evidence. While one witness said she saw Reed closely follow a terrified-looking Powers up the stairs in the hours before she was shot, Watkins noted that another witness said Powers looked high, not scared. And there was “no evidence (Reed) was touching her, no evidence the defendant threatened her, no evidence he pulled her up the stairs or pushed her up the stairs,” Watkins said.

The argument that the murder weapon was a “community gun” shared by Gangster Disciples isn’t enough to definitively link it to Reed or his co-defendant Turner, Watkins said.

And previous trial testimony from two younger men who said they saw Reed confessing to killing Powers while he had a .357 poking out of his waistband was simply not credible, Watkins said.

More believable, Watkins said, was the evidence that Turner’s sister fed them that story in an apparent effort to help her brother. They could not reasonably have known the type of gun if they had only seen the handle, Watkins said.

“I don’t know how he would know,” he said. “Unless somebody told them what to say to police.”

After the hearing Wednesday, Reed’s attorneys expressed gratitude but not surprise.

“There really was no evidence that put Gerald Reed at either murder scene at any point,” attorney Larry Dreyfus said.

A civil lawsuit is a “definite possibility,” Zinger said, and urged Cook County prosecutors to turn their attention to Turner, who never alleged torture and whose conviction remains intact.