Darby Tillis, a death-row survivor who spent more than nine years incarcerated in Illinois, including four years on death-row, passed away at the age of seventy one. Darby was living in an old limousine in the streets of Chicago. Severely wounded by his experience on death-row, he traveled around the country telling the story of his wrongful conviction to anyone that would listen. In 2007, he took a bus ride from Chicago to Austin to support the successful campaign to save Kenneth Foster Jr. He never failed to mention that the judge who convicted him “is doing fifteen years in a federal penitentiary.” I recorded this video of him performing his signature song at the same 2007 rally for Kenneth Foster.
Darby and Perry Cobb were wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death for the 1977 murder and armed robbery of the owner and an employee of a hotdog stand on the north side of Chicago. They were arrested three weeks after the crime when a witness, Phyllis Santini, went to the police with a story implicating them. Both men professed their innocence. It took three Cook County jury trials for prosecutors to convict Tillis and Cobb. The first two trials ended in hung juries. The third resulted in convictions and death sentences, but the Illinois Supreme Court reversed the case based on judicial error. The two men were acquitted at the fifth trial in 1987 after Michael Falconer, a Lake County prosecutor, came forward after reading an article about the case by Rob Warden in the Chicago Lawyer. Falconer said the state’s chief witness against Mr. Tillis and Cobb had confided to him that the crime actually was committed by another man, her boyfriend. Fourteen years later, as a result of petitions brought by the Center on Wrongful Convictions and the MacArthur Justice Center, Governor George Ryan granted Tillis and Cobb pardons based on actual innocence.actual innocence.