On November 13, 1977, Melvin Kanter and Charles Guccion were shot to death during a robbery of a hotdog stand on Chicago's north side. Perry Cobb and Darby Tillis, who knew nothing of the crime, were charged with the murders and sentenced to death. No physical evidence linked either one to the killing. Perry and Darby did not know one another.
The prosecution’s case relied on the testimony of Phyllis Santini, who went to the police with a story implicating Perry and Darby. Both men professed their innocence, but police found a watch resembling that worn by one of the victims in Perry’s room. Perry claimed that he bought the watch for $10 from Santini's boyfriend, Johnny Brown.
The first two trials resulted in hung juries. The all-white jury in the third trial sentenced both men to death. They spent more than a decade in prison. Yet, due to judicial error and blatant racial bias – blacks had been aggressively kept off of the third trial’s jury – the Illinois Supreme Court reversed the case in 1983. After the reversal, Rob Warden published an article detailing the evidence in Chicago Lawyer that was read by Michael Falconer. Falconer, a recent law graduate from DePaul University, was a former co-worker of Phyllis Santini’s. While working together she confided to Falconer that she and her boyfriend – Brown – once robbed a restaurant and shot someone.
It was revealed that Phyllis Santini had framed Perry and Darby to cover for herself and her boyfriend. Furthermore, she received cash in exchange for her testimony against the co-defendants. A fourth trial was ordered. The fourth trial, too, ended in a hung jury. Finally, a 1987 bench trial resulted in the exoneration of Perry Cobb and Darby Tillis. They had endured a record five trials for the same charge and spent eight years on death row. Despite all the evidence against Brown and Santini, the two have never been charged.
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