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Anita Alvarez
Cook County State's Attorney
Communications Department
Chicago, IL 60602
(312) 603-3423
saomedia@cookcountyil.gov


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

February 11, 2015

State's Attorney Dismisses Charges In 30-year-old Murder Case
Following Conviction Integrity Review


The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office today vacated charges of murder and sexual assault against a former south suburban man currently serving a life sentence in prison following an extensive review of the case by the State’s Attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unit, State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez announced today.

As a result of newly developed evidence, the conviction and sentence of Christopher Abernathy, 48, was dismissed and vacated in court this morning during a brief hearing at the Cook County Criminal Courts Building in Markham. Abernathy was convicted and sentenced to life in prison 28 years ago for the sexual assault and murder of 15-year-old Kristina Hickey of Park Forest. Hickey was a sophomore at Rich East High School in Park Forest at the time of her grisly murder which occurred on Oct. 3 of 1984.

“The decision to vacate this conviction comes as a result of a comprehensive investigation by my office into the facts of this case which has revealed evidence that tends to exonerate Christopher Abernathy for the commission of this crime,” Alvarez said. “Today’s action in this extremely tragic case once again represents the commitment that I made when we began the Conviction Integrity Unit, that we would pro-actively investigate and review cases that involve possible wrongful or questionable convictions and take proper action.”

The re-investigation into the case began last May after the Conviction Integrity Unit received a request from Abernathy’s attorneys requesting DNA testing. As a result of this request, the State’s Attorney’s Office began an extensive conviction integrity review that involved re-interviews of dozens of witnesses, a review of all available police reports and court transcripts as well as any other potential information that could be tracked down relating to the case.

The office also conducted extensive DNA testing of profiles that were collected and stored after the crime occurred.

According to Alvarez, there were several troubling aspects that were revealed as a result of the reinvestigation of this case including the fact that Abernathy may have suffered from a diminished mental capacity and that he wrote and signed a confession that was void of any significant details of the crime. And it was this confession that was one of the key pieces of evidence that was used to convict him at trial.

In addition, the State’s Attorney’s Office conducted extensive testing on all available evidence and as a result of the testing, Abernathy’s DNA profile can be excluded from every article of evidence in which DNA was obtained.

Kristina Hickey went missing as she was walking home after singing at her high school choir concert on the evening of Oct. 3, 1984. Two days later, two young boys found her body behind some bushes near a department store in Park Forest which was in the vicinity of where she would have likely walked on her path home from the school. Hickey had been violently stabbed multiple times, including a deep slash wound over the front of her neck and there was also evidence that she had been sexually assaulted.

Abernathy, who lived in south suburban Midlothian at the time, knew Hickey and was initially questioned by police but released without being charged. One year later he was arrested and subsequently charged with the murder. He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison in February of 1987. State’s Attorney Alvarez also announced that her office will now begin a cold case investigation into the murder working with the Park Forest Police Department and other law enforcement partners.

“It is my hope that some measure of justice is being served today, but there are no doubt many extremely sad and difficult aspects to this case. This is difficult for all parties involved including the victim’s family, but I cannot and will not let a wrongful conviction stand.”

The Conviction Integrity Unit was created by State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez in February of 2012 with the goal of placing a new emphasis and a stronger focus on the review of cases involving questionable convictions. Since the creation of the unit a total of 13 defendants have had their convictions vacated as a result of conviction integrity investigations.

 

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