Journey For Justice -
The Johnnie Lee Savory Story
By Johnnie Lee Savory, II
Edited by Natalie Smith Parra, JD Editor
Justice:Denied magazine, Issue 26, page 4
I was fourteen years old on January 18, 1977. At approximately 4:30 pm on that day my friend, 14-year-old James Scopy Robinson, Jr. and his 19-year-old sister Connie Cooper were found murdered in their home at 3033 W. Garden St., Peoria, Illinois. They were found by their step-dad William Peter Ellis Douglas and their mother Noyla Robinson.
On January 25, 1977, at approx. 3:00 pm, I arrived at Late Afternoon High School. I was on my way to class when I was stopped by the school principal Mr. Sam Richardson. Mr. Richardson took me to the teachers’ lounge where two men who introduced themselves as detectives from the Peoria Police Department were waiting. They asked me if I knew James Robinson, and I said yes. They asked me if I could tell them anything helpful about the case and I said no, that I didn’t want to talk to them. Somehow they persuaded me to come to the station with them.
The next thing I knew I was sitting in a 5 by 9 interrogation room. The detectives questioned me and showed me photos of parts of the crime scene. The interrogation lasted for a couple of hours, and then they asked me if I was hungry. I said yes. They gave me a root beer and a candy bar. I asked if I could go home but they didn’t respond.
The interrogation continued until about 9:30 pm, at which time they allowed me to speak with my probation officer, Percy Baker, Jr. The Detectives came back into the interrogation room and asked me would I agree to take a polygraph test. I said yes. I asked again if I would be allowed to go home and they still gave no response.
At approximately 10:05 p.m., Detective Charles Cannon, Percy Baker, a couple of other detectives and I left the Peoria Police Department. They drove me downtown to the polygraph examiner’s office. They introduced me to the polygraph examiner Mr. Jenkins and he questioned me for about an hour. On completion of the examination Mr. Jenkins stepped out of the room. A few minutes passed. When Mr. Jenkins returned, the detectives and my probation officer accompanied him. One of the Detectives read me my rights according to law. Once again I asked if I could go home. One of the detectives said that they were going to keep me overnight at the Gift Avenue Detention Center. I was finally processed in a little after 12 a..m.
At 8:00 the next morning an officer from the Peoria Police Department arrived to take me to the station and within ten minutes of arriving at the station interrogation began again and lasted until about 10 a.m. I was allowed to see my dad, but he was so angry that neither of us could communicate. The interrogation resumed at 10:30 a.m. A few minutes into the interrogation I was asked to give up the clothes I had on. I was escorted into the men’s room where the forensic officer was waiting. He asked me to strip all the way down. The forensics officer placed my clothing in a bag, and then he said he was going to take a few hair samples. Although I was nervous, I allowed him to pluck hairs from all over my body with a pair of tweezers. When he was finished he gave me a jumpsuit to wear. At around 12 pm, they brought me some new clothes. They asked me if I was hungry and I said yes. They brought me some food.
The interrogation resumed at approximately 1 p.m. and lasted until about 5:30 p.m., at which time I asked the Detectives when could I go home. Once again they did not answer. They asked me if I would be willing to take another polygraph test and I said yes, if I can go home afterward. They said, “We’ll see.” At 6:00 or 6:30 pm, I was taken to the polygraph examiner’s office and this time I was introduced to a different polygraph examiner. The examination lasted 10 or 15 minutes. The examiner Mr. Bowers began calling me a liar and a murderer. As the tears were rolling down my face, I asked to see Officer Brown. When she came in, I turned to her and said, “Okay, I did it.” Officer Brown asked me how I did it and I said I didn’t know, so she began to guide me as to which words to use and I agreed with whatever she said. Then I said, “ I’ve done what you’ve asked of me, now can I go home because I haven’t killed anyone?” Officer Brown said, “You’re back tracking.” The detectives read me my Rights and returned me to the police station. At the station the detectives asked me to give a signed statement. I refused and said that I hadn’t done anything, that I didn’t do it.
Because I was 14 years old, they brought me before a juvenile judge. That judge decided that I should be tried as an adult. My attorney was Richard Burgess.
At my preliminary hearing my attorney Mr. Burgess kept trying to bring to the court’s attention, that the evidence in this case strongly pointed to the victim’s step-dad William Peter Ellis Douglas. The Court asked Mr. Burgess to stick to the matter at hand because Mr. Douglas was not on trial. My attorney continued to ignore the court’s warnings and finally Judge Stephen J. Covey held Mr. Burgess in contempt of court. He was taken into custody. The Judge asked me to rise. He told me I would have to get myself another attorney or that the court would appoint one for me. I had no idea what the Judge was talking about. I was taken back to Gift Avenue Detention Center and placed in solitary confinement.
I received a visit from Mrs. Octavia Burchett and Mrs. Bernice Lawton, two mothers from my community. They told me not to worry, that they were going to raise the money to hire an attorney to help me. They hired Attorney Jack C. Vieley. A few weeks later I received a visit from Ms. Sloan Jordan, Mr. Vieley’s secretary and investigator.
Around April or May of 1977 my attorney and the state began picking the jury from a pool of about 300 whites.
The state presented the following evidence in the first trial to support their "theory" that I murdered my friend James while practicing martial arts, then blanked out and killed his sister.
State’s evidence in the first trial
My illegal confession.
A pair of bloodstained pants belonging to my dad. The state alleged that the blood on the pants matched the victim Connie Cooper’s blood.
A three-inch pocketknife from my dad, with possible blood on it.
Testimony from Albert and Georgia Smolley that I was at their home on January 18, 1977, the morning of the murder until 9 a.m. when I left with Mr. Smolley to go look at a new car he was considering buying. We returned to their home at approximately 10 a.m.
No fingerprints of mine were found in the victim’s home, on anything.
Hairs were found in both victims’ hands and the hairs did not belong to me or to the victims, according to the testimony of state’s witness Robert F. Gonowski, Criminologist.
Motion to suppress the confession was filed with the Clerk of the Tenth Judicial Circuit Court because I was illegally interrogated for nearly 20 hours after I told the detectives that I did not want to talk with them. I wasn’t allowed to leave even though I wasn’t a suspect.
In July of 1977, the jury deliberated for about two hours before returning a verdict of guilty. I was sentenced in August of 1977 to 50-100 years in prison.
While in maximum security for juveniles, located in Joliet, Illinois, I received a visit from the Head of the State Appellate Defender’s Office, Mr. Theodore A. Gottfried. Mr. Gottfried assured me that I would get a new trial.
In April of 1980, the Third District Appellate Court, ruled unanimously that the confession was illegal, my case was reversed and remanded back to the 10th Judicial Circuit of Peoria County, Illinois. The State appealed, and the Illinois Supreme Court and the United States Supreme Court agreed with the Appellate Court’s decision.
Michael Mihms, former State’s Attorney of Peoria County in 1977, now Chief Justice of the United States Central District Court, located in Peoria, Illinois said, “ ...Without the confession its impossible to retry Johnnie Savory, so that’s it, he won’t be retried.” Peoria Journal Star News Paper (1981)
John Barra, State’s Attorney of Peoria County in 1981 was quoted: “...Without the confession, there is no evidence to tie Savory to the crime, or the scene of the crime.” Peoria Journal Star News Paper (1981)
In February 1981, I was brought back to Peoria, Illinois to stand trial or be freed. Moreover, there was no evidence and no witnesses to testify. Approximately 6 weeks after my return, the state produced three witnesses from the same family. Ella, Tina and Frankie Ivy, all claimed that I made admissions to each of them regarding the deaths of the victims on separate occasions on the day of the murder (January 18, 1977).
A few weeks before my scheduled trial was to begin, my appellate counsel and friend Mr. Gottfried sent an appellate defender investigator down to assist my trial attorney Mr. Vieley. Investigator Charlie Peters was able to interview Frankie Ivy and at that interview Frankie agreed to allow Mr. Peters to tape the interview. Frankie told Mr. Peters that he had lied to the police regarding my making admissions to him about the murder.
About two before my trial was scheduled to begin, another of the Ivy brothers, James Ivy, contacted my attorney from the Peoria County Jail and stated that the Peoria Police were willing to make him a deal if he would testify against me. My attorney did nothing.
The second or third week in April of 1981, my second trial began. Once again, my attorney and the state picked a jury from a pool of 50 whites. This time because of a change of venue the trial was held in Waukegan, Illinois.
State’s evidence in the second trial
The bloodstained pants belonging to my dad, allegedly with the victims’ blood on them.
The Ivy’s testimony claiming that I made admissions to each of them on separate occasions about the murder of the victims on January 18, 1977.
The testimony of Robert F. Gonowski, Criminologist, who testified that blood on the pants matched the victim Connie Cooper’s blood.
Testimony from Dr. Phillip Immesoete, Coroner’s Physician of Peoria County, IL, who testified that both victims died an hour and half after eating and that both victims had the same food content in their upper stomachs. The actual report shows that Dr. Immesoete committed perjury during my second trial.
Defense evidence in the second trial
The Court gave my trial attorney Mr. Vieley permission to play the tape recorded statement of state’s witness Frankie Ivy. The court heard the tape, and then asked my attorney to lay the foundation for the jury to hear the tape so it could be admitted into evidence. My attorney shocked the court and everyone in it when he refused to lay the foundation by calling Investigator Charles Peter to testify.
On May 1, 1981, after 5 hours of deliberation, the jury returned a verdict of guilty. I was returned to the Peoria County Jail. About a week later my attorney filed a Motion for a New Trial. My attorney called former Assistant State’s Attorney Joseph Gibson to testify. Mr. Gibson testified that the reason they did not call the Ivys’ to testify in the first trial is because it was determined after interviewing them in 1977 that their testimony had no evidentiary value. The Court denied the motion and sentenced me to 40-80 years imprisonment.
All my state and federal appeals were denied. However, in Savory v. Lane, 832 F.2d 1011 (7th Cir. 1987) Id. at 1019, the United States 7th Circuit Court of Appeal said,
“...In sum, the record does not support the assertion that the defendant admitted to three witnesses that he had stabbed the victims and they were dead before the bodies had been discovered, or that he gave detailed description of the wounds before that discovery.
Neither do they support the statement that he admitted his presence and complicity in the killings.
The Ivy’s testimony thus had less probative force than the Appellate Court’s summary suggest.
Accordingly, we cannot accord a presumption of correctness to that Court’s finding.
... However, even independently reviewing the harmless error question and recognizing the problem with the Ivy’s testimony, we believe the errors were harmless beyond reasonable doubt.”
In 1997, then the Honorable Jim Edger, Governor of the State of Illinois signed into law (725 ILCS 5/116-3) authorizing DNA Testing for all who had maintained their innocence, even though they had been convicted with eyewitnesses and other circumstantial evidence. This new law would only be afforded to those who did not have access to DNA Technology at the time of their trial. On January 1, 1998, the new DNA testing Law took effect. Shortly thereafter, my attorney Professor Richard S. Kling, from Kent College School of Law, filed a Motion requesting DNA Testing on a pair of bloodstained pants belonging to my dad, the pants that the prosecution had claimed had the victim Connie Cooper’s blood on them. He also requested fingernails scrapings for hairs and other materials from both victims.
Also, attached to the Motion were affidavits from Frankie and Tina Ivy recanting their second trial testimony, admitting that they had lied.
I believe on June 9, 1998, Judge Robert A. Barnes, denied my motion for DNA testing, citing other overwhelming evidence; however, Judge Barnes never mentioned what the overwhelming evidence was. After this, my attorney Mr. Kling abandoned the case. I then prepared my Motion For Reconsideration and Judge Barnes denied that motion citing the previous ruling. I filed for a Notice of Appeal and Mr. Theodore A. Gottfried, State Appellate Defender, took my case. He filed my appeal in the Third District Appellate Court. That appeal was denied in December of 2000. Moreover, the Honorable Justice William Holdrigde, wrote a dissenting opinion, in which he says that his colleagues were wrong, that I was entitled to DNA testing on the bloodstained pants and the fingernail scrapings.
My case was then appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court. On May 24, 2001, my appeal was denied. Justice Mary Ann McMorrow, wrote the opinion, citing other overwhelming evidence, the Ivy’s testimony, the testimony of Dr. Immesoete, the testimony of Robert F. Gonsowski, and my alleged knowledge of the crime scene before the bodies were discovered according to the Ivys’.
My trial attorney Jack C. Vieley, failed to present the following indisputable evidence at my second trial. This evidence could have proved my innocence and impeached all the state’s key witnesses:
Obtain affidavits from Percy Baker, Jr., Sherman Jones, Officer Glen Perkins, Ken Falls and Jerry Ceisler; all would have testified that I was with each of them when the Ivy’s testified under oath that I was with them on the day of the murder; the facts and the records will clearly show the Ivy’s committed perjury.
Trial attorney failed to introduce evidence of my dad’s blood group and type, even though he had it in his possession at the second trial. Mr. Vieley subpoenaed Methodist Hospital in Peoria, Illinois to release my dad’s blood group and type and the hospital complied.
Trial attorney failed to introduce evidence at my second trial of the victims’ actual blood grouping and types.
Trial attorney failed to introduce copies of the original autopsy reports to impeach Dr. Phillip Immesoete’s second trial testimony regarding the death of the victims.
Trial attorney failed to request the court to order forensic testing of hair samples taken from the victims’ parents, even though the step-dad was the first suspect in this case; moreover, both Officer Vogle and the mother noticed welts under William Peter Ellis Douglas’s eye the day of the murder.
Moreover, my innocence could have been proven beyond all doubt with “one” single piece of evidence: The victims’ family dog was that evidence. The victims’ family dog was a full-grown German shepherd (Trouble Man). This dog was known for his protectiveness of the entire family, especially James, Connie and the baby, according to the testimony of both parents and friends of the family. I had only been to the victims’ home one time, the day before the murder on January 17, 1977. Both parents gave statements to the police and testified under oath in both trials that the dog was at large in the house when they arrived home on January 18, 1977, the day of the murder, their home was a one story flat.
As of November 2004 I have a Petition For Executive Clemency pending before Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich based on the indisputable evidence of my innocence. This petition includes new affidavits in which Frankie and Tina Ivy state they lied during my second trial under pressure by Detective Charles Cannon and Peoria police officers. Among the many people who have sent the Governor letters in support of my petition are: Rubin Hurricane Carter, Exec. Dir., Assoc. in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted; Kate Germond, Asst. Dir., Centurion Ministries; Colin Starger, Staff Attorney, Innocence Project at Cardozo School of Law; and Prentice H. Marshall, attorney and former U.S. District Court Judge. If you want to send a letter supporting my clemency petition, it must be mailed directly to:
Governor Rod Blagojevich
207 State House
Springfield, IL 62706
In closing, I thank you in advance for the opportunity to share my story with you. I assure you that all the facts I have expressed herein are true, and I have the documents to support those facts. God Bless.
My attorney’s are with the firm of Jenner & Block: Christopher Tompkins (312) 840-8686 & Matthew Neumeier (312) 840-7749.
Key outside supporters are:
Beverly Vilberg, Treasurer, CCCJ, (309) 676-1123
Ted A. Gottfried, Attorney, State Appellate Defender, (217) 782-7203
Ms. Win Wahrer, Exec. Asst., Assoc. in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted (416) 504-7500.
The Free Johnny Lee Savory website is at: