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Subject: Dennis Williams, 46, exonerated of murder

autopsy pending
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Date Posted: March 26, 2003 1:55:52 EDT

Dennis Williams, a former death-row inmate whose exoneration became a rallying cry for opponents of the death penalty in Illinois, died on Thursday at his home here. He was 46.

An autopsy has not yet been performed, the authorities said.

Mr. Williams spent 18 years in prison until a Northwestern University professor and his class helped win release for him and his co-defendant in 1996 after learning that a witness for the state had lied.

Governor George Ryan cited their case when he commuted the sentences of every inmate on death row in January, just before he left office.

Mr. Williams and three other men were in their 20's when they were convicted of raping Carol Schmal and killing her and her fiancÚ, Lawrence Lionberg. Mr. Williams and one of the men went to death row; the other two were sentenced to life in prison.

Three others were later convicted of killing Ms. Schmal and Mr. Lionberg.

The original defendants won a $36 million settlement from Cook County in 1999 after they filed suit saying the sheriff's officers who investigated the 1978 killing were racists who hid evidence that would have helped the defense while ignoring leads pointing to the real killers.

"No amount of money can be satisfactory for what has been done to us," Mr. Williams said at the time. "If someone asked me 18 years ago, `Can I buy your life for $100 million or can I borrow your life for $100 million for 18 years?' I would have said, `Hell, no.' "

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