Evans v. Jones, No. 19-3466 (7th Cir. 2021)Annotate this Case
An Illinois jury convicted Evans of the first-degree murder of Williams, who was killed in a Chicago drive-by shooting. Only one eyewitness, Jeffers, connected Evans to the shooting. Jeffers initially only provided a few general identifying details of the shooter and did not specifically identify any shooter. Eleven months later, the police approached him while he was incarcerated; Jeffers then identified Evans as the shooter. At trial, Jeffers recanted that identification: he testified that he did not see the identity of the shooter but had identified Evans because the police told him to. During closing arguments, the prosecutor argued that Jeffers’s trial testimony was false and the jury should disbelieve it because Jeffers only changed his story after being paid a visit by a defense investigator working for Evans’s co-defendant, who was a known gang member.
The state appellate court concluded that there was sufficient evidence to support the prosecutor’s closing argument statements, so they were not improper. Evans unsuccessfully sought state post-conviction relief.
The Seventh Circuit affirmed an order granting federal habeas relief. The state appellate court’s determination that the prosecutor’s statements were proper was objectively unreasonable. The facts compel the conclusion that Evans was deprived of his right to a fair trial.