Acquittal of Chicago Man from a 30-Year-Old Murder Case Ensued from Conviction Integrity Review
Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office:
Cook County State’s Attorney
Chicago, IL 60602
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
February 11, 2015
State’s Attorney Dismisses Charges In 30-year-old Murder Case
Following Conviction Integrity Review
Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez announces the acquittal of a convicted man currently serving a life sentence in prison for murder and assault charges. The defendant has been dismissed from the 30-year-old murder case.
The former south suburban man, Christopher Abernathy, 48, has had his charges vacated by the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, ensuing the extensive review of his case made by the State’s Attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unit.
On February 11, 2015, the case against Abernathy, who has been serving life imprisonment since 1987, has been dismissed and vacated during a brief hearing at the Cook County Criminal Courts Building in Markham. The acquittal of Abernathy is a result of a newly developed evidence on his case from 28 years ago, in which he was indicted for the murder and sexual assault of Kristina Hickey – a 15-year-old girl and a sophomore at the Rich East High School.
The case of Abernathy has been reopened for reinvestigation in May of 2014. The Conviction Integrity Unit of the State’s Attorney’s Office has received a request from the attorneys of Abernathy demanding DNA testing, from where the unit began its extensive conviction integrity review. The reinvestigation of Abernathy’s case required the reviewing of all available police reports, re-interviewing of witnesses, revisiting court transcripts, and rechecking of all potential information that could lead to the truth regarding the case.
Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez released a statement regarding the acquittal of Abernathy saying, “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.” She further states that “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 proactively investigate and review cases that involve possible wrongful or questionable convictions and take proper action.”
The victim, Kristina Hickey, reportedly went missing on the evening of October 3, 1984, while walking home from her school at Park Forest. The gruesome murder of Hickey is believed to have happened that night, as her body was found two days later, behind some bushes around a department store. Two boys were said to have noticed the body in the area where Hickey could have likely walked on the way home from a choir concert in school. Multiple stabbed wounds have been found on Hickey’s body, including a deep slash wound over the front of her neck. Furthermore, evidence showed sexual assault.
The suspect, Abernathy, knew Hickey and was initially questioned by the police but was released without charges. A year later, he was arrested and charged with the murder and sexual assault of Hickey. In February of 1987, Abernathy was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment.
The recent cold case investigation of the case handled by the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office involved the extensive DNA testing of the profiles that were previously collected and filed under criminal records. Further testing on all available evidence also ensued the initial extensive DNA testing. Conclusions revealed that Abernathy’s DNA profile could be excluded from every article of evidence in which DNA was obtained from the crime scene.
State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez states that there were several troubling implications, which were unraveled by the cold case reinvestigation of the murder and sexual assault of Hickey. New allegations arose, including the consideration for Abernathy’s diminished mental capacity during the time he wrote a signed confession, which was, in fact, void of any significant details of the crime. This confession became the key point of the trial, from which he was convicted for the murder and sexual assault of Hickey.
With these revelations, Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez expresses her concern and hope for justice and honor. “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,” State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez says.
The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office – Conviction Integrity Unit was established by the State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez in February of 2012. The Conviction Integrity Unit, in collaboration with the Police Department and other law enforcement officers, aims to place a new emphasis and stronger focus on the review of cases involving questionable convictions. The unit has been able to serve justice to 13 defendants, thus far – having their convictions dismissed and vacated as a result of the extensive conviction integrity review and reinvestigations.
Updated: July 27, 2020