ST. LOUIS — Two inmates serving decades-long prison sentences for separate killings and a man who wounded several Chicago police officers during a shootout were freed from Illinois lockups on Wednesday, two days after getting commutations from Pat Quinn in his final moments as governor.
Decried by a Chicago-area prosecutor as a "secretive maneuver" that slighted victims, Quinn's actions Monday vacated the prison terms of Tyrone Hood, who was convicted in connection with a 1993 shooting death, and Anthony Dansberry, who had been found guilty of killing an elderly woman in 1991.
Also freed was Howard Morgan, a former Chicago police officer and railroad cop who had been sentenced to 40 years for an attempted murder conviction linked to the 2005 shootout. Morgan had claimed he was the victim of overzealous police during a traffic stop, though police insisted he fired first.
Hood had been scheduled to be eligible for parole in 2030 and Dansberry in 2029. Morgan, 63, was projected for parole in 2045.
Hours after leaving the maximum-security Menard Correctional Center near Chester, about 60 miles southeast of St. Louis, Hood and a small entourage that included an attorney made their way to a McDonald's. Between nibbles of a Big Mac and french fries, Hood said finding work once he returns to Chicago was his first order of business. He said he might try to find a job rehabbing buildings or working on cars, as he did before his prison years.
"I'm shocked. Excited. Happy. Very, very happy," Hood told The Associated Press by cellphone, adding, "Bear with me, because I've never used one of these phones before."
"I'm very thankful for what Gov. Quinn did," said Hood, who will wear a tracking device attached to his ankle as a condition of his next three years on supervised release. "I would have died in prison had this never happened."
Quinn did not explain the commutations, and he's not bound to do so. But the actions on the day his successor, Republican Bruce Rauner, took office roiled Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez.
Alvarez, through spokeswoman Sally Daly on Monday, called the clemency process a "secretive maneuver that puts the rights of victims of crime and their families at the bottom of the list of priorities."
On Wednesday, Daly told the AP that Quinn didn't allow for "substantive hearings" in which prosecutors and victims' families could weigh in. Prosecutors, Daly added, were left "without any explanation or justification as to why the defendants were selected to have their sentences commuted."
Hood, 51, was found guilty in the death of Illinois Institute of Technology basketball standout Marshall Morgan Jr. and was sentenced to a half century in prison. But Hood has insisted through the University of Chicago's Exoneration Project that evidence pointed to someone else. Cook County prosecutors have re-examined the case.
Dansberry, 52, had been serving a 60-year sentence for murder and a 15-year term for robbery in connection with the death of a 77-year-old woman. Attorneys have argued on Dansberry's behalf that he couldn't read and was coerced into signing a confession.
Dansberry's attorneys on appeal included Jane Raley of Northwestern University's Center on Wrongful Convictions. Raley died on Christmas Day, never having the chance to see Dansberry a free man.
"People are saying that Jane is smiling down on us, and it's a very sad thing that she didn't know," Margaret Soffin, a volunteer attorney with the Northwestern University center, told the AP on the eve of Dansberry's freedom. "We're very thrilled. We finally feel justice has been served."