When Chicago police took Terrill Swift to a police station on the city’s South Side in March of 1995, he was just 17 years old.
“They cuffed me to the chair and they started asking me questions about this rape and murder. And I’m like ‘Whoa, what? Excuse me?’ ” Swift remembers.
Swift and three other black teenagers, a group that would later be dubbed the Englewood Four, were questioned for hours. Swift remembers the police telling him over and over: “You’re gonna die in jail. You’re never going home.”
“I’m sitting there like, I’m ‘how am I gonna die in jail? I don’t even know what’s going on,’ ” Swift said. “I’ve never been in jail, I don’t know how jail works. You’re telling me I’m never going to see my family again. I don’t know if that’s true. I don’t know!”
After hours of questioning, and as Swift sat with his life flashing before him, an officer walked in and told him even though he knew that Swift wasn’t guilty, the other co-defendants said Swift did it.
The officer told Swift if he would just play along and cooperate, it would get smoothed out and Swift could go home.
Ultimately all four teenagers confessed to a brutal rape and murder they did not commit. DNA evidence exonerated them almost 20 years later.
“You know, people [ask] ‘How can someone sign a confession for a crime they didn’t do?’ And I’m like ‘do you know the amount of pressure that you’re under?’ I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy,” Swift said.
Last week, the Illinois legislature passed a bill banning police from lying to juveniles during criminal interrogations. Experts said the change will help prevent false confessions and wrongful convictions, like the convictions of the Englewood Four.