Christopher Abernathy was only 17 in 1984 when 15-year-old Kristina Hickey, a high school student and girl he knew, was brutally assaulted and murdered in Park Forest, Ill. (Cook County). The crime shocked and terrified residents of this small suburban community south of Chicago, and went unsolved for more than a year.
Then in 1985, while being questioned on an unrelated crime, another teenager told police Christopher had “confessed” to him that he killed Kristina. With no evidence but this “snitch account,” police took Christopher into custody and interrogated him for more than 40 hours.
At the time of his questioning, Christopher was 18. He had dropped out of school several years prior due to a documented learning disability. He was very close to his mother and repeatedly begged the police officers to let him speak with her – a request they denied.
Hour by hour, as the interrogation went on, the police fed details of the crime to Christopher. Ultimately, after being worn down by 40 hours of questioning and being told he would be allowed to see his mother if he signed a statement, Christopher “confessed” to the crime.
In 1987, based on his “confessions” to which the police and the snitch testified, and with no physical evidence linking him to the crime, a jury convicted and sentenced Christopher to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
For 30 years Christopher maintained his innocence. In 2015, the Illinois Innocence Project secured the agreement of the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office Conviction Integrity Unit to test critical crime scene evidence for DNA. The victim had been sexually assaulted, stabbed numerous times and items of her own clothing were used to restrain her. DNA testing identified male DNA profiles on eight items, including rape kit evidence and Kristina’s clothing that the perpetrator(s) would have handled.
The DNA results entirely excluded Christopher and conclusively proved his innocence. The results also established that the statement Christopher had given police was a false confession.
The Illinois Innocence Project, advocating for the importance of the DNA results and other new evidence not presented at trial, obtained agreement from the State’s Attorney’s Office to vacate and dismiss all charges against Christopher and immediately release him from prison.
On February 11, 2015, Christopher was exonerated and released from Stateville Correctional Center after spending nearly 30 years wrongfully incarcerated for this horrendous crime. He walked into the arms of his mother, who had visited him almost 1,000 times over the years and had never given up fighting for her son.