ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — A former Rockford man who spent a quarter century behind bars for a murder he didn’t commit has rejected a settlement offer in a wrongful conviction lawsuit he filed against the city of Rockford and the Illinois State Police.
After he was acquitted of murder in 2019, Patrick Pursley filed a wrongful conviction complaint in federal court, accusing the Rockford Police Department the Illinois State Police Crime Lab of manufacturing ballistics evidence against him in the 1993 death of Andy Ascher.
Earlier this year, he received an offer to settle the case without going to trial. He declined to specify the exact amount of the offer but said had he taken it, he would have received “less than $1 million” after he paid his case-related expenses.
“It didn’t take it because am I fighting for my kids and grandkids’ futures,” Pursley said. “It’s not enough.”
At Pursley’s first murder trial, prosecutors used the faulty ballistics evidence to prove their theory that he fatally shot 22-year-old Ascher during an attempted armed robbery.
From the beginning of the investigation, Pursley claimed that not only was he nowhere near 2709 Silent Wood Trail on April, 2, 1993, his handgun was not the murder weapon. That didn’t stop the Illinois State Police Crime Lab from matching a 9mm Taurus Rockford investigators recovered from his home to shell casings found at the crime scene.
A jury found Pursley guilty in 1994, and a judge sent to him to prison for life without the possibility of parole.
After more than two decades of post-conviction motions, Pursley was granted a new trial, and his legal team retested the gun evidence using software that didn’t exist in the early 1990s.
At his second trial—a bench trial in front of Judge Joe McGraw—defense lawyers presented testimony and exhibits that showed markings on the casings recovered at the scene and those on a test cartridge were made by different guns.
McGraw agreed with the defense, and Pursley walked out of the courthouse a free man. He later received a certificate of innocence.
Now, nearly 30 years after Ascher was killed, Pursley says he’s trying to make up for time lost behind the walls of one of the country’s most notorious correctional centers.
And while he says he’s seeking far more than his recent offer, he’s not looking for a vaunting trip to the bank. He says whatever it is, it’ll only just begin to make him whole. He’s more interested in the legacy he for years thought would die in prison with him.
Pursley left Stateville in 2017, released on bond while he awaited his second trial. Since the day he walked out of prison, he’s undergone several surgeries to correct painful back and should problems he developed on the inside, a condition made worse by cleaning houses and office buildings to make ends meet.
“They can’t give me the 25 years back,” he said. “They don’t have a time machine.”
The shooting of Andy Ascher
Andy Ascher and girlfriend Becky Myers, then Becky George, planned to see a comedy show on April 2, 1993, at a Machesney Park bar called Laughs R Us. But, because Myers did not have her ID, they couldn’t get into the club. That’s when they decided to drive to her brother’s condo on Silent Wood Trail.
Myers testified that before they entered the condo, a man in a blue ski mask approached the car and said, “This is a stickup,” then shot Ascher twice in the head. She couldn’t describe the shooter in detail but said he “sounded like a black male.”
Before arresting Pursley, police interviewed his then-girlfriend, Samantha Crabtree, who initially implicated him in the shooting. Investigators then served a search warrant at the couple’s apartment and seized two 9mm handguns, including the Taurus prosecutors would say Pursley used to kill Ascher.
Even as Crabtree recanted her statement, Pursley was charged with first-degree murder. He says his arrest was the result of what he calls a “round ’em all up” style of policing common in the 1980s and ’90s during the “war on drugs” and a nationwide push to end gang violence.
“It wasn’t just Rockford,” he said. “You had these little pockets of law enforcement that basically operated like cowboys,” he said. “They made the cases, so they were heralded and lauded as heroes when, in fact, they were breaking every rule conceivable to obtain a conviction.”
Roll the dice
The Rockford investigators who worked Pursley’s case are now dead or have long retired. Regardless, he says it’s now the city’s responsibility to make things right. But he says leaving him with less than $1 million when he spent half of his life behind bars doesn’t come close.
“The harm done to me didn’t just devastate my life but it reached down into my children and grandchildren’s lives, completely altering their trajectory, severing the family bond between them, which (was) even more trauma for me,” he said.
Pursley says if he can’t reach a new settlement, he’s prepared to roll the dice at trial.
“This is bigger than me,” he said. “This is about leaving the world a little better than the way I found it.”
Law and order
Even though he says he’s had good reason to look at law enforcement with contempt, Pursley chooses not to go there. He said he won’t ever forget what happened to him but he’s also not asking anyone to defund or abolish cops.
“There needs to be law and order,” he said. “But the law needs to follow the law. I just want them to follow their own rules.”
Attorneys for the Illinois State Police could not be reached. City of Rockford Legal Director Nick Meyer declined to comment.
“The case is still pending,” Meyer said. “Our general policy is to not comment on pending litigation.”
Pursley continues to keep a busy public-speaking schedule and run his nonprofit, I Am Kid Culture, an organization that provides resources for underprivileged and marginalized youth. The group is currently running a contest for free Chromebooks.