Now cops out to "get him," he says
Manuel Salazar has only been a free man for one day, but on Friday he said that it has already proven to be bittersweet.
For the last 11 years, Salazar said, he has prayed that he would walk free someday and leave behind a 9-by-6-foot cell, where he was awaiting execution.
That day came Friday when a Will County jury decided that Salazar was not guilty of murder - but of involuntary manslaughter - in the fatal shooting of Joliet police officer Martin Murrin on September 12, 1984.
With that decision, Salazar walked out of a Will County Jail because he already has served more than the maximum sentence for that offense.
Yet as he sat at his brother's house in New Lenox on Friday, Salazar said that he still hasn't had a chance to celebrate his release.
He told reporters that Joliet police officers threatened to "get him" in the presence of one of his sister's friends.
He said he feared that officers, angered by the jury's verdict, were not only going to come after him but his family.
"I don't want to leave Joliet, but I may not have a choice," said Salazar, who was 19 when he went to prison and is now 30.
"It's not that I'm worried about me. I don't fear death."
But he said he was worried about law enforcement officials "lashing back at me by taking it out on my family." He alleged that it already has happened.
Within hours of his release Friday morning, Salazar said, a sheriff's officer showed up at his brother's house with a "warrant."
Sheriff Brendan Ward confirmed that an officer went to the house, but he said it wasn't a warrant that he served, it was a paper from the Illinois Department of Public Aid.
Milton Grimes, one of the lawyers who defended Salazar at his latest trial, questioned whether the officer showing up at the house on the same day Salazar was freed could be a "coincidence."
Joliet Police Chief Joseph P. Beazley said he know of no threats against Salazar. And he said he would investigate any threats brought to his attention.
But Beazley said he suspected the allegation was just another "tactic" by Salazar's defense team. "It's a perpetuation of the big lie they told in this case that Salazar was the victim," Beazley said.
Salazar had claimed at his first and second trials that he shot the officer in self-defense. He explained that he tried to surrender after leading the officer on a chase down a dead-end alley in Joliet, but he said Murrin began beating him.
But prosecutors contended that Salazar, then 18, killed Murrin in cold-blood. They pointed to the fact that Murrin was shot five times, including once at point-blank range in the forehead.
Salazar was convicted of murder in 1985 in the officer's slaying, and he was sentenced to death. But the Illinois Supreme Court reversed his conviction two years ago, ruling that Salazar's lawyer failed to challenge jury instructions that kept the jury from finding Salazar guilty of a lesser offense.