Rockford, Illinois News

Judge grants Patrick Pursley certificate of innocence

ROCKFORD — Patrick Pursely, the Rockford man who spent 23 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit, was granted a certificate of innocence by a Winnebago County judge Friday.

Judge Joseph McGraw’s ruling means Pursley’s record pertaining to the death of Andy Ascher will be expunged. Asher was fatally shot during a robbery attempt on the city’s east side in 1993.

In Pursley’s 1994 trial, prosecutors convinced the jury that it was his 9mm handgun that was used to shoot Ascher twice in the head and that Pursley was the masked man who pulled the trigger. Pursley was sentenced to life in prison as a result and fought for more than two decades to prove he wasn’t anywhere near 2709 Silent Wood Trail on April 2, 1993.

“I was at home with my son, playing with a chemistry set,” Pursley said.

But it wasn’t his alibi that ultimately won Pursley a new trial in 2017. It was the very markings the murder weapon made on shell casings found at the scene and ballistics testing that didn’t exist in 1994 that prompted McGraw to vacate the conviction.

Defense attorneys focused on ballistics during the 2019 retrial, calling renowned firearms experts John Murdock and Chris Coleman to refute the original findings.

Coleman independently evaluated a report done by Murdock, who re-examined the 1994 Illinois State Police findings used to seal Pursley’s fate. In doing so, Murdock examined test casings fired from the murder weapon in 1993 and from Pursley’s gun in 2011.

In comparing the group of distinct markings Pursley’s gun made on test casings with the group of markings on spent shells found at the scene, there was a problem. They didn’t match.

“The two groups were fired from different guns,” Murdock told McGraw during the 2019 bench trial.

Coleman reaffirmed Murdock’s conclusion, telling the judge, “We’re talking two guns here.”

McGraw found Pursley not guilty, adding there was no physical evidence linking him to the death of Andy Ascher.

Friday’s hearing marks a nearly 30-year chapter Pursley is all too ready to close.

“I am very grateful,” he said. “The wheels of justice may have turned slow but I’m grateful that they turned in my my favor, even if it took 28 years.”

With a certificate of innocence, Pursley is eligible for wrongful-conviction compensation of up to $220,000. A civil lawsuit he brought against the City of Rockford and the Rockford Police Department is pending.