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Three Charged With 1978 Murders In Case That Wrongly Convicted Four

July 3, 1996

CHICAGO (AP) _ For 18 years, three men got away with a double murder while four innocent men wasted away in prison, prosecutors said Wednesday as charges were filed against the three.

Ira Johnson, Arthur Robinson and Juan ``Johnny″ Rodriguez were charged one day after new DNA evidence and digging by college students prompted a judge to drop all remaining counts against the innocent men.

``The evidence that excluded the four guys yesterday pointed to these guys,″ said Chris Welch, a Cook County State’s Attorney spokesman.

The three were charged in the May 1978 murders of Carol Schmal and her fiance, Larry Lionberg.

Robinson, 42, who had been free until after he admitted his part in the May 1978 murders of Carol Schmal and her fiance, Larry Lionberg, was ordered held without bail pending a hearing on Friday.

Johnson, 36, who also is to appear in court Friday, is serving a 74-year sentence for another murder. Rodriguez, 36, remained at large, prosecutors said.

Robinson and Johnson admitted to a Northwestern University professor and three of his students earlier this year that they and Rodriguez were the real killers, Welch said. They also implicated Johnson’s brother Dennis, who has since died of a drug overdose.

The Northwestern team spent six months investigating the case in what began as a college journalism project.

On May 11, 1978, Schmal and Lionberg were abducted from the gas station where he worked. She was repeatedly raped before both were shot to death.

The next day, Kenneth Adams, Verneal Jimerson, Willie Rainge and Dennis Williams were arrested. All lived near where the bodies were found, in the violent suburb of East Chicago Heights, now called Ford Heights.

Williams and Jimerson eventually went to Death Row in separate trials. Rainge was sentenced to life, and Adams got 75 years.

Recent DNA tests showed that none of the four could have been the ones who raped Schmal.

Protess said police had bullied Adams’ troubled girlfriend into testifying that she and the four men killed the couple, and that police also ignored evidence that showed the four were innocent.

For example, prosecutors contended the four men and Adams’ girlfriend, Paula Gray, all crammed into Williams’ small Toyota Corolla and still made room to abduct Schmal and Lionberg. The Northwestern team said Rodriguez’s big Buick Electra was the car used in the crime.

A spokeswoman for Cook County Sheriff Michael Sheahan recently said police are checking into allegations that officers acted improperly during the original investigation, which was before Sheahan took office.

Last year, the Illinois Supreme Court granted a new trial to Jimerson, who was exonerated last month. On Tuesday, a judge dropped all charges against Adams, Rainge and Williams.

Prosecutors hadn’t decided whether to seek the death penalty against the newly charged men. Williams hopes they don’t.

``These are men who know firsthand the danger and horrors of the death penalty,″ said Robert Byman, Williams’ attorney. ``Dennis wouldn’t want anyone to face that, even the men whose acts almost put him to death.″


EDITOR’S NOTE: A trust fund has been set up to help Adams, Jimerson, Rainge and Williams. Donations can be sent to: P.O. Box 129, 2038 N. Clark St., Chicago, IL 60614.

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