Witness in Green case claims she lied in ‘95
Says cops paid her to testify against high school football star.
By: Taylor Bell, Chicago Sun-Times: May 25th, 2010
In 1995, Mather football star Yarmo Green was convicted of attempted first-degree murder of one person and aggravated battery of another and sentenced to 40 years in prison.
Now the prosecution’s key witness at Green’s bench trial, who was 14 years old at the time, has recanted her entire testimony and claims the police paid her to testify against Green, told her what to say and threatened to take her newborn baby away from her if she didn’t comply.
‘‘It was all a lie. He didn’t do what they said he did,’’ Adelaide Cornell said. ‘‘I have been living with guilt that he has been sitting in jail for all of these years. I want to help somebody that I knew I did wrong.
‘‘I was told I had to say he did it. I had no choice. I lied. I did what was best for me. I was 14 with a kid and in a gang. The police made threats. They said they would take my baby away if I didn’t do what they said.’’
Cornell, 31, married with five daughters, said she decided to go public with her revelations because ‘‘I have been holding this in my chest for a lot of years and I had to let the truth be known. Why am I bringing this up after so many years? Kids make mistakes. It isn’t right for him to be in jail for 40 years for something he didn’t do.’’
Green, imprisoned in Logan Correctional Center in Lincoln, Ill., is seeking a new trial and has filed a petition for post-conviction relief after exhausting all appeals. He is eligible for parole in 2014.
‘‘This is a great injustice. The state knowingly used perjured testimony to put away an innocent person,’’ said Elizabeth Wang, an attorney representing Green and Exoneration Project, which is sponsored by the University of Chicago Law School. ‘‘He didn’t get a fair trial because the prosecution knew that Adelaide Cornell’s testimony was false.’’
Cornell, who testified under the name of Natalie Perez because she was wanted by the police, originally recanted in a signed affidavit on May 14, 2008, but the appeal was turned down. The affidavit was attached as Exhibit A to his petition, which persuaded the court to grant Green an evidentiary hearing based on the claims.
‘‘The police said they wouldn’t arrest me if I went along with them,’’ Cornell said. ‘‘I’m tired of being harassed. Someone from the state attorney’s office went to my mother-in-law’s house and wanted me to say I was making up a story. He said, ‘If you pursue this, you will be arrested for perjury.’ He told me to leave it alone, that the case was closed, that Yarmo had already admitted to the crime.’’
But Cornell knew differently. She said that she was told by police to testify that she observed Green hitting Alfonso Briseno with a rock. Later, in sentencing Green to a 40-year term, Circuit Court Judge Fred Suria said the harshness of the penalty was based on Briseno’s condition. Doctors said he was beaten so severely that he was left with the mind of an 8-year-old.
‘‘Yarmo didn’t do it. He was with me,’’ Cornell said. ‘‘Alfonso was buying drugs from other gang members. They were the ones who did it. But the cops didn’t like Yarmo. They were out to get him.
‘‘I was scared. I was a runaway from DCFS [Department of Children and Family Services], a ward of the state. They knew I didn’t want to live in a group home. I had been in trouble before and knew how it feels to be locked up. I didn’t want to be locked up and lose my baby. So I did what the police told me to do.’’
Green was one of the most highly touted football players in the Chicago Public League. He had the size, speed, talent and potential to earn a scholarship to a major college. He earned All-Public League recognition as a junior in 1994, leading his team to an 11-3 record and second place in the Public League playoffs. He dreamed of playing at Notre Dame and in the NFL.
‘‘It is such a shame, a waste,’’ said Ed Miller, Green’s coach at Mather. ‘‘I believe he is a good kid. We did everything we could to help him. But you can’t be with a kid for 24 hours a day. He just couldn’t get away from the gangs.’’
Green wasn’t an angel. He was a member of the Maniac Latin Disciples street gang. Police perceived him as a neighborhood bully. He admits he hit a kid who was spray-painting a wall. But he insists he didn’t hit Briseno, who was laying on the ground after being attacked by others. Forty-eight hours later, after Cornell told police of his identity, Green was arrested at his home.
Green has been incarcerated for 15 years in four prisons — from Pontiac to Danville to Pinckneyville to Lincoln. He still signs his letters as No. 42, his uniform number at Mather. But he answers to B71883. He earned his General Equivalency Degree (GED) and is taking a culinary arts class to learn to become a cook. He is 33 years old.
He talks to his mother on the telephone twice a week for 20 minutes. His phone bill is $50 a month. For exercise, he plays basketball and does push-ups. He listens to a radio, watches television and writes letters. He is in excellent health and physical condition, weighing only a few pounds more than he did in high school.
‘‘He is at ease with himself,’’ said his mother, Helen Boatner. ‘‘He always seems upbeat. He rarely gets down. He always seems to be pretty happy. He never gets down, no matter what happens with the court cases. But he doesn’t want to get his hopes up [over the latest court filing].
“What got him down was when his father and two grandmothers died and he couldn’t attend their funerals. And he missed the birth of his sister Lawuana’s three children. He did get concerned when I had lung surgery in 1999. It was a wake-up call for him. His whole attitude changed. He prayed that I wouldn’t die while he was in prison.”