After 23 years in prison, judge acquits Illinois man of murder after new ballistics tests show bullets didn’t match gun prosecutors presented

In this April 27, 2017 photo, Patrick Pursley, right, speaks to the media, as Robert Stauffer, one of his lawyers, listens after Pursley was released from the Winnebago County jail in Rockford, Ill., after being imprisoned nearly 24 years for the shooting death of Andy Ascher. Pursley has been absolved of the 1993 crime because the ballistics used to convict him proved to be wrong. Winnebago County Circuit Court Judge Joseph McGraw acquitted Pursley of the murder on Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2019. (Arturo Fernandez/Rockford Register Star via AP)

By IVAN MORENO,  Associated Press  01/16  – An Illinois judge acquitted a man of murder Wednesday, more than two decades after jurors convicted him by relying on ballistics that proved to be wrong.

Supporters of 53-year-old Patrick Pursley clapped in a Winnebago County courtroom when Judge Joseph McGraw issued his ruling, saying prosecutors had scant evidence to prove Pursley’s guilt in the fatal shooting of 22-year-old Andy Ascher during a robbery in Rockford, Illinois in 1993.

The ruling caps a decades-long journey Pursley undertook to prove his innocence after spending 23 years in prison. He represented himself from prison for years and lobbied Illinois lawmakers to pass a law allowing the ballistics in his case to be retested using technology not available when he was convicted. The Integrated Ballistic Identification System, or IBIS, uses much higher-resolution and multi-dimensional images for ballistics analysis and ultimately matches shell casings to guns.

“Basically the whole experience was numbing,” Pursley said after the verdict. “I was confident. All the signs were there that the judge would see the evidence for what it was. I’m just grateful that he did.”

In this May 15, 2017 photo Patrick Pursley speaks in his apartment in Rockford, Ill. After being imprisoned nearly 24 years for the shooting death of Andy Ascher, Pursley has been absolved of the 1993 crime because the ballistics used to convict him proved to be wrong. Winnebago County Circuit Court Judge Joseph McGraw acquitted Pursley of the murder on Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2019. (Arturo Fernandez/Rockford Register Star via AP)


So far, IBIS has been primarily used by law enforcement nationwide to catch and convict criminals, not to prove their innocence. That’s because Illinois remains the only state in the country that allows defendants in post-conviction appeals to use the system to retest ballistics.

Without the technology, matching bullets to firearms requires an expert to manually compare shell casings from a crime scene to shell casings test-fired from a gun using microscopes that, at the time of Pursley’s first trial, weren’t as strong as those available now. The processes for ballistics analysis used then were thought to be infallible but have since come under greater scientific scrutiny.

When the evidence in Pursley’s case was retested with IBIS, it showed that the scratches and dents on bullets and shell casings from the crime scene didn’t match the gun that prosecutors presented at trial as the murder weapon. In March 2017, McGraw ordered Pursley retried on a first-degree murder charge and allowed him to go free on bail.

Pursley opted to have McGraw decide his fate at his new trial instead of a jury.

“In this case, the court found that the evidence presented by the State at the retrial did not rise to the level of proof beyond a reasonable doubt,” Winnebago County State’s Attorney Marilyn Hite Ross said in a statement. “We respect the court’s decision.”

Prosecutors had maintained that Pursley killed Ascher while he sat in a car with his girlfriend. But the gun and shell casings were the only physical evidence prosecutors used to convict Pursley. Pursley’s girlfriend at the time of the killing implicated him in the crime but later recanted, saying her testimony had been coerced by police. Prosecutors also relied on testimony from a man who received a Crime Stoppers reward for telling police that Pursley had confessed to the crime.

“I really don’t have anything say,” said Ascher’s mother, Lois Ascher, in a phone call. “But thank you anyway.”

The centerpiece of the prosecution’s case was the conclusion from their ballistics expert who testified with absolute certainty during the 1994 trial that the bullets that killed Ascher could only have come from the gun authorities connected to Pursley. Although his confidence in the language he used then has waned, he still insisted during the latest trial that his initial findings were correct.

But defense attorneys had two experts who independently concluded that the gun taken from Pursley’s home and presented as evidence was not the firearm used to kill Ascher.

“To get to this place it took a tremendous amount of time, work, and commitment that started with Patrick,” said Andrew Vail, one of the attorneys from Chicago-based Jenner and Block, which represented Pursley for free, along with Northwestern University’s Center on Wrongful Convictions.


Moreno reported from Milwaukee.


AP News Researcher Jennifer Farrar in New York contributed to this report.

Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Posted in: Acquittals, Conviction Integrity, Court Rulings, Courts & Trials, Evidence, Firearms, Forensics/DNA Evidence, Homicide, Police Equipment/Technology, Prosecutors

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

13 − six =

Terms of Use for Posting Comments

Terms of Use

This site (the “Site”) is operated and maintained by Law Enforcement Education Foundation, Corporation (“Company”). Throughout the Site, the terms “we”, “us” and “our” refer to Company.  The words “user,” “you” and “your” as used herein refer to you.

Please read these terms and conditions of use (“Terms of Use”) carefully before contributing content. If you do not agree to these Terms of Use, please do not contribute content. Your use of the Site is subject to the Terms and Conditions found here .

By contributing content to the Site, you represent and warrant that you are at least eighteen (18) years old and that you have read and understand these Terms of Use and any amendments thereto and agree to be bound by them. If you are not at least eighteen (18) years old or you do not agree and accept these Terms of Use, you are prohibited from contributing content.

From time to time, we may permit users to submit content to the Site.  You hereby acknowledge and agree that by submitting remarks, comments, suggestions, ideas, graphics, feedback, edits, concepts, comments, photographs, illustrations and other materials (other than personal information and/or registration information) through the Site (individually and collectively, “Submissions”), you (i) grant us a nonexclusive, royalty-free, perpetual, transferable, irrevocable and fully sub-licensable right to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, translate, distribute, publish, create derivative works from and publicly display and perform such Submissions throughout the world in any media, now known or hereafter created, without attribution to you; (ii) grant us the right to pursue at law any person or entity that violates your and/or our rights in your Submissions; and (iii) forever waive any and all of your rights, including but not limited to moral rights, if any, in and to your Submissions, including, without limitation, any all rights or requirements of attribution or identification of you as the author of the Submission or any derivative thereof.  We reserve the right to remove any of your Submissions from the Site, in whole or in part, without notice to you, for any reason or no reason.

Submissions are made voluntarily. Any submissions which include personally identifiable information are subject to our Privacy Policy found here .  You may not upload or otherwise publish content on the Site that (i) is confidential to you or any third party; (ii) is untrue, inaccurate, false or other than an original work of your authorship; (iii) that relates to or impersonates any other person; (iv) violates the copyright, trademark, patent or other intellectual property rights of any person or entity; (v) contains any content, personally identifiable information or other information, or materials of any kind that relate or refer to any other person or entity other than the provider of the products, goods or services to which the Submission relates; or (vi) violates any law, or in any manner infringes or interferes with the rights of others, including but not limited to the use of names, information, or materials that (A) libel, defame, or invade the privacy of any third party, (B) are obscene or pornographic, (C) are harmful, threatening, offensive, abusive, harassing, vulgar, false or inaccurate, racially, sexually, ethnically or are otherwise objectionable or otherwise contrary to the laws of any place where such Submissions may be accessed; (D) constitute personal attacks on other individuals; (E) promote criminal, immoral or illegal activity; (F) promote or advertise any person, product or service or solicit funds; or (G) are deemed confidential by any contract or policy.

You are solely responsible for any Submissions you make and their accuracy. We take no responsibility and assume no liability for any Submissions posted by you or any third party.

Unless approved by us in writing in advance, you agree not to: (i) provide or create a link to the Site; or (ii) create any frames at any other sites pertaining to any of the content located on the Site.

We reserve the right, in our discretion, to update, change or replace any part of these Terms of Use for Posting Comments by posting updates and/or changes to our Site.  It is your responsibility to check this page periodically for changes.  Your continued use of, and/or access to the Site, following the posting of any changes to these Terms of Use for Posting Comments, constitutes your acceptance of those changes.