Kristina Hickey

Kristina Hickey

May 13, 2020

"Justice delayed is justice denied."

-William E. Gladstone

It was the 3rd of October 1984. A Wednesday. Fifteen year old Kristina Hickey was at a high school choir concert at Rich East High School in Park Forest, Illinois, United States. As Kristina was singing in the choir, she wanted to look smart. She was wearing a pink and white striped dress, pink and white jewelry, a mauve raincoat, a grey corduroy purse and grey shoes.

Kristina

Kristina loved singing and she loved the people in the Choir. Kristina had a lot of friends as she was easy to get along with,witty and funny. That evening, before she went to the school to sing, her mother Patricia asked her if she wanted her to collect her after the concert. Kristina said that she would prefer to walk and she left her home to walk to school at 6.30pm. It was a walk Kristina did daily as she walked to and from school. She arrived on time and sang with the Choir. When the concert ended, she was due to go straight home. She promised Patricia that she would go home immediately after the concert. It was a short walk for Kristina. The school was less than a mile from her home. But Kristina never made it home that night.

The Choir

The concert ended at 9 pm and fifteen minutes later, the musical director for the Choir saw Kristina using the telephone outside the athletic director's office in the school. But there was no sign of Kristina after that and nobody knew where she was. A search of the area began. 

Two days later, Kristina was found but it was the outcome that Patricia was dreading. Kristina was dead. Her body was discovered in bushes near a downtown shopping centre. It was an area that was popular with teenagers like Kristina as it was close to the school and students often spent time there. The parking lot lights and exterior building lights of the shopping center were not working at the time so the area would have been extremely dark that night as Kristina walked home. 

The area where Kristina was found and her injuries revealed she suffered a savage and brutal death.

Kristina was still wearing her pink dress. She had been savagely beaten, raped and stabbed multiple times. Her throat was cut. There was a gaping wound in the center of the throat area , a single deep slash wound, six inches in length and stab wounds in the center of her chest just to the right of the left breast. Kristina's dress had been torn and folded in such a way that the left side of the chest, from the navel to the shoulder, was exposed while the right side was covered. 

The left cup of Kristina's bra had been cut away and the bra had been pushed up around her neck. Kristina's nylons and panties had been pulled down to her ankles.

There were bruises on the back of Kristina's left arm and on her ankle and an abrasion on the back of her right arm. There were abrasions to the right side of her face which indicated her face may have been struck against an object or her head slammed against a hard surface. There was blood between Kristina's scalp and her skull which was consistent with her head being struck against a hard surface. There were further abrasions on her neck and collar bone. The bruises on the left side of the neck and collar bone were consistent with someone kneeling on her shoulder and neck but could also have resulted from being struck with some object.

Kristina

The Autopsy determined that it was likely that the chest wounds were inflicted first and that Kristina died very quickly after the transection of her neck.

There was a mound of dirt around Kristina's body. It looked like it had been caused by Kristina frantically moving her legs and arms. It was apparent that she had fought for her life that night. Her death not only devastated Kristina's family but all of the Park Forest residents. Her murder changed the area for good. Everyone wanted answers and wanted to know exactly who was responsible.

It took over one year for an arrest to be made. On the 30th of November 1985, eighteen year old Christopher Abernathy was brought in to the police station for questioning. Christopher knew Kristina and even claimed they had briefly dated. Christopher's friend, Allan Dennis, told police that a few months after Kristina was murdered, Christopher told him that he killed her. Police had already spoken to Christopher shortly after Kristina's murder as he was heard saying that he had a gun in his car and intended to fire a salute afterward at Kristina's funeral. At the time, police determined it was not necessary to look into the matter further as the comment was not serious. They had searched his car and discovered there were no weapons inside. 

When Christopher arrived at the police station, his interrogation began and took place over the course of forty hours. It ended when he signed a confession. He confessed that he saw Kristina walking home that night and wanted to have sex with her. Kristina did not want to and he tried to rape her. He accidentally stabbed her with a butterfly pocket knife that he had in his hand.
He gave the following written account to Detective Kuester:
"I asked my friend, Tony, to take me out to Park Forest to see some friend. I went to Jewel's to get me something to eat. I got a Twinkie and a can of pop. Then I see Kris walk by herself, so I walked up to her and she was crying at the time. I asked her what was worry, she said she got into a fight with her boyfriend. I asked her why, she said it was not any of my business at all, so I said to her if she wants me to walk her home and she said, yes, please. Then she started to get upset more, then she hit me and I grabbed her arms at the time, I had a knife with me. I had it in my hand at the time that I was holding her. She pulled away from me. I think that I could have hit her with my open hand. Then I grabbed her again, I still had the knife in my right hand in front of her, then tried to pull her arms up in front of her. She put my hands by her neck, then I said something to her, I can't remember what I said to her. She turned her neck and then I accidentally cut her neck. I took my picture from her, then I ran to Mickey D's, then I went to the park for awhile, then I went and called Tony to pick me up and then I went home."
Assistant State's Attorney Paul Perry said that Christopher made an oral statement to him and agreed to give a court reported statement as follows:
Defendant (ie Christopher) said that he had known Kristina for about a year before her death. On October 3, 1984, he saw Kristina in the vicinity of the Park Forest Plaza. Kristina was crying. Defendant asked her what was wrong. She said she had had a fight with her boyfriend. Defendant asked her the reason for the fight, and she replied that it was none of his business. Defendant then asked her if she wanted him to walk her home and she said yes. As they were walking, defendant kept asking her about the fight. She became upset and hit him. He pushed her "like to cheer her up." They started arguing. They were next to the Marshall Field's store when "[he] might have hit her without realizing it. Then [he] probably accidentally knocked her down." He "got on top of her," pushed her dress up and pulled her panties down. He was trying to have sex with her. He had a butterfly knife with a three or four inch blade in his hand. "[He] had her pinned. [He] didn't realize the knife was in [his] hand at the time. Then she was struggling. Then [he] might have, without realizing, stabbed her once or twice" in the chest. She threw him off and he got back on her. He pinned her arms to her chest. "Then she tried to pull her hands away and instead of pulling, she pushed them up. Then she turned her head suddenly and [he] might have cut her" neck "on accident." He grabbed her purse and her slip, took his picture out of the purse and threw the purse and the slip away. Two days later, he was treated at South Suburban Hospital for injuries to his face, chest, ribs and arm that he suffered when he ran into a tree.
Almost immediately after he confessed, Christopher tried to take it back. He claimed that the police told him he could go home to his mother if he signed a confession. He had just wanted the contents questioning and interrogation to end.
Christopher
Christopher was charged with Kristina's murder. The Trial took place in January 1987. It was the Prosecution'a case that Christopher not only told someone he had killed Kristina but that he also confessed to the police and signed a confession. They relied on the signed confession and the testimony of Allan Dennis. There was no forensic or physical evidence that connected Christopher to Kristina's murder. 
Christopher was found guilty of the first degree murder, aggravated criminal sexual assault, and armed robbery. The Prosecution called no witnesses during the sentencing hearing. They instead presented a statement from Kristina's mother the Court:

''There is no sentence that will bring my daughter back, but the thought of Abernathy ever being let out of jail to mingle with society and perhaps commit a vicious and brutal attack on anyone else would be more than I could stand emotionally. He has his life, which is more than my daughter will ever have again. I hope and pray that the courts put him away for the rest of his life so he can never again enjoy the freedom and joy of living that he so carelessly destroyed for my 15-year-old daughter.''

Christopher was not eligible for the death penalty as at the time of Kristina's murder he was seventeen years old. The Judge in the case said he would normally show some lenience for a first offence but this particular case was too heinous and he hoped Christopher would realise how despicable the crime was during time in prison. He sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Some twenty years later, journalism students at Northwestern University began investigating Christopher's case. They focused on the two key elements of the Prosecution's case-the confession and the testimony of Allan Dennis. They spoke with Allan and he recanted his trial testimony. According to Allan, he only said that Christopher told him he killed Kristina because the police promised to help him with burglary charges he himself faced and gave him a few hundred dollars. He felt under pressure to say that Christopher told him he killed Kristina. 

With their findings, the journalists sought the help of the Illinois Innocence Project at the University of Illinois in Springfield and asked the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unit to examine the case. They agreed to test DNA found at the crime scene at the time. In total, eight items were tested including a vaginal swab. Christopher's DNA was not found on any of the eight items tested. Instead, a partial DNA profile of a different person was found on the eight items tested. The profile was not enough to run it through the DNA database.
In 2015, the Conviction Integrity Unit requested that Christopher's convictions be vacated. The charges were dismissed and Christopher was released. He had spent twenty nine years in prison. 
One year later Christopher filed a federal civil rights lawsuit. The lawsuit was against former Park Forest police officers Carl Keuster and Donald Meyers, the Cook County State's Attorney's office and Steven Theodore, owner of a polygraph service in Hillside, Illinois. Christopher accused the police of forcing Allan to say that Christopher had confessed . The lawsuit settled for $13.7 million, Cook County agreed to pay $300,000, and Steven agreed to pay $1,000.
Christopher was certainly a victim in this case. He felt compelled to sign a confession after a lengthy interrogation. All he wanted was to be able to go home. That was the promise the police made to him. He recanted the confession almost immediately. That should have warranted a thorough investigation. Christopher was a high school dropout who had been classified as learning disabled and police should have been sure that any confession was truthful and not coerced in any way. His mother always knew he was innocent and visited him almost one thousand times when he was incarcerated. Sadly, she died just six months after he was released.
Christopher and his mother, Anne Kolus
While there is no question that Christopher is a victim in this case, we must not forget that that is an entirely separate issue to Kristina. He is a victim in his own right. But now that he has been released, it is vital that we do not think the case is closed. Kristina is a victim here and her case still remains unsolved. If Christopher did not brutally murder her that night, then who did?


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