More than 100 feet later, the ball of smoke and metal finally came to rest, with the burning Bronco piled up on the hood of Gavin's cruiser and the officer trapped in the wreckage.

Frantic, Wimmer, Eilerman and a dozen more officers rushed to their injured comrade. Inside the squad car, they found Gavin pinned under the dashboard - unconscious, bloody and barely breathing. The officers threw their shoulders into the demolished Bronco in a vain attempt to lift it off their friend.

"Signal 13! Signal 13! Officer down!" someone yelled into a radio transmitter.

Officers reached inside the mangled car, desperately ripping at Gavin's clothing and bulletproof vest, trying to administer cardiopulmonary resuscitation. Someone kicked in the right-rear window and Officer Frank Jarrell Jr. squirmed inside - clawing his way over the cruiser's torn upholstery before realizing that the situation was hopeless.

"It was the most desperate, frustrating situation," Eilerman later testified.

The street was by then clogged with patrol cars, lights whirling, sirens screaming. Eilerman went from officer to officer, grabbing them by the shoulders, shaking them, demanding that they move their cruisers and clear the way for emergency equipment.

"I saw grown men ... standing in the middle of the road and a couple more into the park, standing there, sobbing uncontrollably," Eilerman recalled.

Within minutes, paramedics and firefighters were crawling over the wreckage, clamping an oxygen mask on the injured officer and maneuvering heavy rescue gear into place to tear the roof off the cruiser.

It would take them an hour to extract Gavin from the car. It would take Gavin 20 hours to die.

Meanwhile, several officers had approached the Bronco.

Inside, they found a box of ammunition, a Smith & Wesson 10 mm semiautomatic pistol, a blue baseball cap bearing the logo of the Indianapolis Pacers basketball team and a scrawny 17-year-old named Eric D. Stennett with a record of drug arrests going back to his 13th birthday.

No one else.

No possibility of mistaken identity.

No room for a shadow of doubt.

Then one of the officers reached in and grabbed the pistol with his bare hand - and the case of State vs. Stennett began to unravel.

Mishandled evidence

Amid the pandemonium at Lombard and Gilmor streets that night, at least three key pieces of evidence would be mishandled. And as time wore on - as hours gave way to days, and days turned into weeks - it only got worse.

  • Upon finding that Stennett was wearing a bulletproof vest, an officer tore it off without hesitation and threw it on the ground before evidence technicians had a chance to photograph the suspect actually wearing it.

  • At the scene of the shooting on Wilkens Avenue, a second officer scooped up the spent shell casings from the street but failed to mark their position on the asphalt for photographers. So he came back later and chalked them off from memory, drawing 10 yellow X's on the ground where he had found nine brass cartridges.

  • One officer filed a report from the scene but didn't sign it. Another neglected to date his. And still another filled out his report of the night's events, then went home, changed his mind and filed a second one several days later that contradicted his first version.