A Chicago man has been released from custody nearly 20 years after being convicted of a murder to which his twin brother later confessed.
According to The Chicago Tribune, Kevin Dugar was convicted of the gang-related 2003 murder of Antwan Carter and the wounding of Ronnie Bolden on the city’s north side. However, a decade later, his brother, Karl Smith, wrote him a letter and, in it, confessed to the crime.
“I have to get it off my chest before it kills me,” Smith penned back in 2013. “So I’ll just come clean and pray you can forgive me.”
Dugar was released from Cook County Jail on Tuesday after a motion for bond was granted. As a condition of his release, he will be moved into a residential transitional facility, where he is not allowed to leave for 90 days.
In 2016, the brothers appeared in court where Smith — who took his mother’s maiden name later in life — at the hearing again claimed responsibility for the shooting. “I’m here to confess to a crime I committed that he was wrongly accused of,” Smith testified, moments after taking the witness stand, according to Tribune reporting.
However, Cook County prosecutors doubted Smith’s version of the events because at the time he made his claims, an appeals court had upheld his conviction for his part in a 2008 home invasion and armed robbery. Smith was serving a 99-year prison sentence for the incident, in which a 6-year-old boy was shot in the head.
Assistant State’s Attorney Carol Rogala observed that Smith had “nothing to lose” by taking the blame for his brother’s murder rap. A judge also found the confession “completely unreliable” in 2018, and Dugar remained in prison.
With the support of the Bluhm Legal Clinic’s Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law, Dugar continued to press his case. The conviction was overturned by the Court of Appeals, which found that if it had all the evidence, a jury may have come to a different conclusion other than guilty.
“This case is in a very different situation than it was 20 years ago,” Dugar’s attorney Ron Safer said. “Everybody knows much more about it.”
According to The Tribune, at the time of the shootings, both brothers were selling drugs and involved in street life. “We was acting as one,” testified Smith, who admitted that he and his twin were dope-dealing gang members. “Where I was, he was, acting like each other. He pretended to be me, and I pretended to be him.”
Smith said he committed the murder while attending a party, confessing that it happened when he went to a liquor store, saying he fired the shots, then went back to the party and changed his clothes. He also reportedly sat in on at least one day of his brother’s trial.
According to Smith, he found God in prison and wanted to right his past wrongs.
“I didn’t have the strength to come forward,” he said. “I thought it was the job of the police to catch me.”