Notes from the Kevin Dugar case
Behind the scenes: How I reported the story of a man mixed up with his identical twin and the justice system that didn't seem to care.
He was sent to prison for murder. Then his identical twin confessed
Published in The Guardian yesterday.
I’ve been getting a lot of questions about how I came across Kevin Dugar’s story.
The truth is, investigative reporting is a lot less sneaking around in a trench coat than shown in the movies. It’s a lot more paperwork.
Some nights, when I’m too tired to write but not tired enough to hang up my metaphorical trench coat for the evening, I type in random keywords into court record databases to see what stories might come up. In April last year, I was in the early stages of reporting an entirely different story involving twins. Anyways, I typed in the word “twin,” hit search, and the appellate court’s opinion on Kevin’s case was at the top of the results.
TL;DR: Someone was sitting in prison, convicted on eyewitness testimony, for a murder. But his identical twin later confessed to it. And the investigators thought the twins were lying to cover for one another…
It sounded like a real murder mystery.
There are a few of these mixed-up-twins true-crime tales. In 2009, DNA found on a glove left at the scene of a multi-million-dollar jewelry heist in Germany led to identical twin brothers with matching genetic information. Without further evidence to determine which twin dropped the glove, both were let free.
Another story goes back to the early 20th century; twins from England arrested for poaching 150 times claimed the police had arrested the wrong twin each time. Ebenezer Albert Fox claimed guilt for charges that Albert Ebenezer Fox was incarcerated for. Then Albert Ebenezer pleaded to the police magistrate to exonerate Ebenezer Albert for poaching crimes that Albert Ebenezer claimed he committed. It was a disorienting pirouette, albeit never convincing.
Kevin's story reminded me of the Fox brothers. He and Karl had a record of tricking authorities into thinking one was the other. Karl's rap sheet is actually filed under Kevin's name, and Kevin's record includes the alias "Carl." That ploy got them out of trouble when they were younger, only to backfire years later as Kevin made his case for innocence.
But unlike the story of the Fox brothers, there’s compelling evidence to believe the Dugars—even though prosecutors have claimed they’re not so compelled.
I sent Kevin a short hand-written letter introducing myself.
Almost two months later, I got a letter back. Kevin wrote me a 10-page essay ranging from his experiences with racism to why he forgave his twin brother for the crime that ruined his life.
Over the next several months, Kevin and I continued our correspondence and he let me deeper into his life.
I also had to follow the paper trail that led to Kevin’s conviction. Even though the case was from the pre-cloud era, the Chicago Police Department dug up most of the hand-written police notes from the investigation. I requested all of Karl’s records and records of several other gang members close to the story. The only CPD record I wanted that had mysteriously gone missing was the detailed employee file of the lead detective on Kevin’s case. I was, however, able to find a list of the complaints on his record between 1989 and 2000 (there were 24).
Most of the records from Kevin’s trial and appeals, including transcripts and exhibits I needed, were put away in storage—and there were thousands of pages. The Cook County court couldn’t send me digital files (I know, in 2021). So after paying a hefty fee, some stacks and stacks of paper arrived via postal service. The real crux of investigative reporting is reading, organizing, sorting, re-navigating, and storing documents.
Finding gang members to interview was also a challenge. Most didn’t respond to my messages. I sent Ronnie Bolden an email requesting an interview. I left a burner number, and about 10 minutes later, he called me while he was driving. Screaming, he threatened to sue me if I wrote the story. He told me never to contact him again.
Eventually, Kevin connected me to a former Vice Lord named Caprice (who I had tried to contact on Facebook, but he hadn’t seen my messages). Caprice was happy to chat, and he sent me a chapter from a memoir he wrote, which included the day he attended Kevin’s trial.
By mid-September, I felt like I had all the pieces to the puzzle, and that’s when I pitched to my editor, Jessica Reed, who helped me turn a messy draft into the story you got to read.
As we neared publication day, Kevin called me from jail one morning. He had written some spoken word poetry about his second trial, and he wanted to share. I sat in my office and listened as Kevin commanded the line like a microphone:
“Déjà vu …
My first court date seemed to rattle my soul.
Inside of those bullpens again, I felt like I was on the trip called memory lane.
I tell people how long I've been held captive, and they look at me as if I was supposed to have gone insane.
Instead of acting as if I'm a sane and plain ordinary man.
I walk down to the courtroom and flashbacks of my first trial bring back foul memories.
PTSD in full mode.
My heart pumps as if it wants to explode and I gain control and get a hold on the stress that was haunting me. …
My life is like a movie I’ve seen over and over again.
Only this time me and my friends are playing a role so my soul can roll out of this déjà vu type of shit.”
Read about Kevin’s fight for justice in The Guardian.
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