Criminal Justice

This Week in Innocence


This week, Illinois prosecutors dropped all charges against Jerry Hobbs and released him from prison. Hobbs, 39, has been in prison since 2005 for the rape and murder of his 8-year-old daughter and her 9-year-old friend. Last month, a man was arrested in Virginia whose DNA fit the biological evidence found at the crime scene.

I wrote a short piece for Reason last year about the man who prosecuted Hobbs, Michael Mermel, chief of the criminal division for the Lake County, Illinois, State's Attorney's Office.

Mermel's greatest hit might be the case of Jerry Hobbs, who was accused of killing his 8-year-old daughter and her 9-year-old friend in 2005. When Hobbs' attorneys revealed in court that DNA tests showed the semen found in the mouth, rectum, and vagina of Hobbs' daughter didn't belong to Hobbs,Mermel postulated that the semen must have found its way into the girl's body while she was playing in a patch of woods where teenagers were known to have sex. The girl was found fully clothed.

The only evidence against Hobbs was his confession, which he gave after 16 straight hours of interrogation. (His attorneys say he was also up the entire night before, helping in the search for the girls.) False confessions aren't uncommon, especially when there's pressure on police to solve a high-profile murder.

Assistant State's Attorney Mermel has a history of standing behind his hunches, even when DNA shows the state got the wrong guy. When DNA testing came back showing the semen in the underwear of a 68-year-old woman didn't match Bernie Starks, who was convicted in 1986 for the woman's rape and murder, Mermel dismissed the results because the semen came from the victim's clothing. Had it come from the woman's vagina, Mermel said, "I would be standing over there advocating the side that the defense has in the case."

Three years later, defense attorneys were able to find the rape kit. They then tested semen recovered from the woman's vagina. Again, no match. It probably won't surprise you to learn that Mermel didn't keep his word. This time he argued that the woman must have had sex with someone else just before the rape.

In 2005, when DNA testing on another rape and murder victim didn't match his suspect, Mermel again argued that the victim—this time an 11-year-old—must have been sexually active at around the time she was raped and killed.

Even in releasing Hobbs last week, Lake County State's Attorney Michael Waller told the media he still thinks Hobbs was involved in the murders. But he was graciously dropping the charges against Hobbs because after five years, a negative DNA test, and, finally, a DNA match to another man, he could no longer prove his case beyond a reasonable doubt.

How kind of him.

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  1. “The only evidence against Mermel was his confession…”

    You mean Hobbs right?

    1. Yes. Fixed that.


      1. Dude, you really are powerful! This is about the Blagojevich trial, right?

  2. Whenever I read a story about young girls being raped or murdered, my rage goes from barely suppressed to foaming at the mouth, ready to tear the perpetrator’s head off with my bare hands.

    It’s only magnified by the fact that I have two young daughters of my own. Stories like this make me sick – there is nothing good anywhere in it. Not only did this guy get wrongly convicted for raping and murdering HIS OWN DAUGHTER, he had to suffer the knowledge of how his daughter was horrifically murdered.

    A couple days ago, my wife picked out the movie “The Lovely Bones.” I knew nothing about it, so I sat and watched it with her. Holy, hell, that movie was emotionally draining. I literally had a headache by the end. It was infuriating.

    Anyhow who would rape a child needs to be publicly dismembered. Bring back drawing and quartering!

    1. Most father’s feel that way to, which is way a biological father killing and raping his own child almost never happens. Children are victimized by step fathers and dirtbag boyfriends. But cops are so fucking PC they won’t admit this basic fact. And spent hours grilling this guy when the chances of him being guilty were statistically minute.

      1. But cops are so fucking PC they won’t admit this basic fact.

        Cops ain’t PC, they’re superhero wannabe’s. And/or lazy. And/or subject to the numbers game. Combine it all you and get convenience-based justice.

        1. “”they’re superhero wannabe’s””

          Really? Name one superhero that needed to kill your pet?

          1. Rohrshack?

            1. Rorschach

      2. I will never forget that when my goddaughter was molested by a neighborhood man my own age, and I had to take some time to help her family deal with it, my boss — who just was a few years my elder and not particularly chummy with me — looked me in the said to me, “You take what time you need. You need me to get a bat, and a pickup truck, and a ski mask, you let me know.” And then I remembered that he has two daughters my goddaughter’s age, and that he’d met her once. And that was enough to trigger his Dad-Rage. I looked at him very differently after that, and when I told my goddaughter the story, years later, of how he reacted, she started to cry that some near-stranger she’d met once was willing to do violent things to avenge her, just because of the father-daughter bond.

    2. Not to mention that he knew the guy who did it would go free. Probably to do it to someone else.

      1. All to protect his career. The word sociopath is thrown around too liberally. But probably not in this case.

      2. He may have if DNA evidence holds. The guy raped a lady in Arlington, attacked another. Lot of land (and children) between Illinois and Virginia.

        1. Oh, and there was about 5 years between when Jorge “George” Torrez raped/killed the two little girls in Illinois and when he raped/attacked those two ladies in Virginia.

          Do monsters like that hibernate for 5 years?

          1. Sometimes. The BTK killer in Wichita Kansas went over a decade between kills. They get the urge and go do it and then it goes away for a while.

    3. One and done.


  4. For some reason “Mermel” is an appropriate sounding name for this creature.

    1. Right out of the seedier parts of Middle Earth.

  5. Lake County State’s Attorney Michael Waller told the media he still thinks Hobbs was involved in the murders.

    Allow me to finish the report:

    …and then local media licked his balls while praising his tough-on-crime record.

    1. Geez, you guys are so cynical

      They waited a whole four sentences before giving him the benefit of the doubt.

      1. Waller has won election five times, usually with little trouble, and Lake County GOP Chairman Bob Cook said the prosecutor would win again if he runs in 2012.

        If Lake County, IL voters have any brains, then Waller’s election chances will be inversely proportional to Jorge “George” Torrez’s bodycount.

    2. I have to say I don’t blame the defense attorneys for coming to his aid. They likely know what the consequences would be to them and to their clients if they dared criticize him.

      I do, however, blame the Tribune for not even questioning him.

      1. The ink-stained cocksuckers at the Trib need the prosecutors on their side if Zell wants his fraud investigation to go away.

    3. “”…and then local media licked his balls while praising his tough-on-crime record.”””

      And the voting public licked up his tough on crime jizz.

  6. Even in releasing Hobbs last week, Lake County State’s Attorney Michael Waller told the media he still thinks Hobbs was involved in the murders.

    Are there any prosecutors that aren’t egotistical sociopaths that are out there to make a name for themselves? These guys are a menace to civilized society.

    1. Are there any prosecutors that aren’t egotistical sociopaths that are out there to make a name for themselves? These guys are a menace to civilized society.

      They seem to be especially prevalent in the Chicagoland area.

      1. The Dallas AG, Craig Watkins, is pretty good.

        1. er, DA

  7. I’m normally opposed to the death penalty both because I don’t trust the state with that power, and because of the increasing cases of actual innocence which are coming to light.

    Having said that, I feel that false imprisonment and malicious prosecution are exeptions to this rule. After all, harsh punishment is a deterrent, right?

    1. Harsh punishment for a prosecutor would be to take his or her power away and have them fade into anonymity. Maybe require them to make a living taking on traffic ticket cases.

  8. I wish there was a way to have Melmer and this Waller idiot pay damages out of their own pocket for the suffering that this poor guy Hobbs has endured.

    He should be able to sue the crap out of all of them. The only reason Waller made that insanely dumb ass “I think he’s still guilty anyways” statement is to cover his ass.

    Public officials need to start paying for cock-ups like this.

  9. Isn’t there a term for people who feel no guilty in harming others?

  10. no guilt, that is.

  11. Have the perp and the crooked prosecutor catch 168 grain FMJ’s with their eyelids.

  12. Why would Hobbs falsely confess to the murder of his own daughter?

    Having an eight year old daughter myself, barring physical torture, I would never confess to a murder I didn’t commit, even after 200 hours of interrogation.

    1. You know why they use high pressure interrogation tactics? Because they work. It is easy to say that you would not break, and hell, you might be exceptional and not actually confess, but for every one of you there are 10 normal schmoes who do.

      They even use these techniques on the mentally handicapped. Just because you won’t break does not mean that these methods are not putting innocent people away constantly.

      1. Doesn’t answer the question. I’m guessing something went on in that interrogation room to make Hobbs believe that confession was the easy way out. Because the interrogation wasn’t recorded, we won’t know. But I strongly believe that they must have lied to him.

        In passing, I noticed that Hobbs had a criminal record.

        I’m guessing they made reference to his criminal history, and told him that his conviction was all but assured, and if he confessed, he’d get off much easier, otherwise he’d get the death penalty. When he found out he was going to get the death penalty anyway, that’s when the quick retraction came.

        You see, for them to get a confession out of a regular person who’s not mentally handicapped, it’s real simple: You have to become convinced that confessing to a murder will net a better outcome than not confessing to a murder.

        Somehow they convinced him that the confession was going to net him a better result. What I want to know is what happened inside that interrogation room.

        1. Watch a few episodes of The First 48 (on A&E)….telling a suspect that it will be better for them if they confess happnes in pretty much every interrogation. After 16 hours a suspect may start to believe them.

          1. It’s got to be bigger than that. Way bigger. It’s going to take more than 16 hours of interrogation to make me think to myself “Gee, if I say ‘Yes, I murdered my daughter…’ I mean, sure I’m gonna get the gas chamber, but I’ll finally get some sleep!”

            No, I’m thinking they lied to him, and not in the typical cop way to get a street thug to spill the beans on who was with him in the car during the driveby, I mean lied big.

            I’m thinking something sinister was going on during that interrogation. Either that or Hobbs was, as noted above, mentally handicapped. If that were the case then all bets are off.

            But I would bet there isn’t a person here who would throw up their arms and confess to highest of all high crimes because you’re tired and distraught.

  13. It’s a minor point but according to our paper this morning (this murder is local for us) Hobbs was NOT charged with rape, just murder. In fact, the law folks still claim that there were no signs of sexual assault and, therefore, they do not know how this other DNA managed to get inside the victim’s body.

    Even if Hobbs were guilty, I think it’s crazy that they could keep him locked up 5 years without a trial just because he was formally charged.

  14. There truly is an irony in that socio-pathic killers AND prosecutors have such diminished moral capacity.

  15. After reading this I am thoroughly disgusted with law enforcement and prosecutors. For the most part they are egomaniacs defying basic logic. Most in law enforcement I’ve noted regularly break the law by driving drunk etc and their legal friends cover and lie for them. When I was younger many adults told me law enforcement was one step above criminals and if they weren’t in law enforcement they’d be in jail. Law enforcement actions of today is below criminals. Their covering of each other and justifying such actions without being accountable for their comments and actions is pathetic. In Illinois it seems they’ve made lying a profession and tax payers are paying for it.

    It is absurd that the girl was assumed promiscuous by the prosecutor Mermel at that young age, she was 8. Who’s the one with perverted thoughts? A hunch? How about hard evidence not a co-horsed confession by cops who don’t even know how to tell the truth themselves. The father had a record oh well. One fact doesn’t necessitate guilt in another.

    Also the person who raped and killed these children was named Jorge Torrez, not George which is a name usually associated with a white male. Because ones name can be translated into another language doesn’t make it their name. Are Waller and Mermel trying to be politically correct to get votes from the Hispanic community that is greatly abundant in Lake County and in 10 years will probably be the majority? Is Jorge Torrez an illegal Mexican? Lake County is being overrun by them. Illinois has a record of corrupt persons serving in government capacities being over compensated with absurd pensions and this is just another case of the status quo.

    The comment by Waller of Hobbs being involved in the murders is typical of a spineless joke that fills the position of a government official. I wonder if the Civil Division prepared that statement for him. Hobbs was involved because it was his daughter!

    Mermel prosecuted Hobbs with the blessing of Waller. Hobbs was persecuted in jail due to the ego of Waller because Waller holds the cards not Mermel. Waller then may have felt insecure when firing his mouth off saying he felt Hobbs was involved, pathetic. Too bad Jorge Torrez wasn’t attracted to Michael Waller, they could have hooked up.

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