False Arrests and Convictions

Our work fighting for the rights of the wrongly convicted and the falsely arrested continued. In 1996, we became the lawyers for Kenneth Adams, one of the Ford Heights Four, innocent men who spent a total of 65 years in prison for a crime which they did not commit. In 1978, the Cook County Sheriff’s police coerced witnesses to falsely implicate the men in a double murder and rape, then suppressed evidence which identified who the real killers were.  Eighteen years later, all four of the men were still in prison, two on death row, when journalism students who were investigating the case finally uncovered the suppressed evidence and obtained confessions from the real killers. DNA tests further established their innocence, and they were released in 1996. We then filed a civil suit on behalf of Adams, and together with the other three plaintiffs further developed powerful proof that crucial evidence was coerced, manufactured and suppressed, as well as compelling damage evidence, particularly the daily horrors that these men suffered while languishing in prison and on death row. On the basis of this evidence, and buoyed by the gathering strength of anti-death penalty sentiment in cases of innocence, the Ford Heights Four obtained a record $36 million settlement in March of 1999.

In 1998, we took up the representation of the seven-year-old boy who, in a case that made national headlines, was falsely accused by Chicago police detectives of the murder of an 11 year old girl named Ryan Harris. For several hours, detectives interrogated the seven-year-old and his eight year old friend, outside the presence of his family or an attorney. The detectives then produced statements from the children which were inconsistent with the known physical evidence, defied all logic and common sense, and were totally bereft of any intent to commit the crime. Nonetheless, they charged the boys with murder, placed the seven year old in custody in a mental hospital, and forced the boys to sit through an evidentiary hearing at which they were repeatedly accused of being murderers. The case against the boys was subsequently devastated when semen was found on the body of the victim, and medical evidence showed that the boys were too young and were incapable of producing it. Public outrage in the African American community led to dismissal of the charges, and DNA tests later showed that the semen came from a repeat sexual offender who was subsequently convicted of the crime. After a hard-fought case, in which the City continued to claim that the boys were involved with the murder, we were able to secure a multi-million dollar award for our client, but nothing could compensate for the unspeakable trauma visited upon these young children by these callous detectives which caused the boys extreme psychological injury which threatens to be with them for the rest of their lives.

One notable case during this period was our representation of Miguel Castillo, a Latino man who was wrongfully convicted of killing a gay Cuban émigré in 1988 based on an entirely false, fabricated confession. Chicago Police Officers claimed that Mr. Castillo confessed to brutally stabbing and dismembering the victim because the victim allegedly cheated on him (even though there was no evidence to indicate Mr. Castillo was gay or had any romantic relationship with the victim).  Tim Lohraff and Joey Mogul, who had both joined the office in the mid-1990s, worked with Jeff to file a post conviction petition, and we were able to establish that it was physically impossible for Mr. Castillo to have committed the murder because he was incarcerated at Cook County Jail at the time of the crime. We obtained the reversal of his conviction and his release in 2000, then obtained an innocence pardon and sued the officers responsible for the false conviction. We eventually settled the suit for $1.2 million in 2004.

Around 2000 we began to represent Ronald Jones, who our friend Dick Cunningham had represented in criminal court where he won the reversal of his death penalty and conviction. Jones had been convicted in 1988 of the rape and murder of a young woman whose body was found in an abandoned motel. His conviction was based entirely upon a confession which Chicago police officers had coerced from Jones through repeated brutality. No physical evidence linked Jones to the crime, but there was semen recovered from the victim which the police alleged came from Jones. In the late 1980s DNA testing was in its infancy, but once it became practical to test the semen Dick sought that testing. Though the trial judge refused to order it and scoffed at Dick’s efforts, the Illinois Supreme Court reversed, the semen was tested, and it was established that it was not Jones’. His conviction was eventually reversed and we then sued the police for coercion of the confession. The case settled for $2.2 million.

In another DNA exoneration case we and attorneys from Neufeld, Scheck and Brustin in New York represented Larry Mayes who was wrongly convicted of rape in Indiana in 1982 and sentenced to 75 years in prison. The only evidence linking Mayes to the crime was an identification by the victim, who was adamant that she had correctly identified Mayes, as well as a co-defendant, whom Mayes had never met. When Mayes sought DNA testing in the 1990s, not only did the testing show that neither he nor his co-defendant were the rapists, the victim acknowledged that she had been hypnotized by the police prior to making an identification, a procedure which had been hidden by the police. Even after Mayes’ release, the police refused to acknowledge his innocence, and the case went to trial before a jury. The jury showed its disgust at the police behavior by returning a $9 million award in favor of Mayes.

In 2003 we began to represent Paul Terry, who served 27 years in prison for a murder and rape conviction before DNA established his innocence. In 1976, 9-year-old Lisa Cabassa was raped and murdered near her home on the south side of Chicago. Several days later a neighborhood woman claimed that she had seen Lisa struggling with two men, and several weeks after that she claimed that she knew the identity of one of the men, identifying Michael Evans. After several more weeks, and several more conflicting statements, the woman claimed that Paul Terry, a friend of Evans’, was the other man. Somehow, this incredibly flimsy evidence was deemed sufficient to warrant the convictions of Evans and Terry, and their sentence to life in prison. In the late 1990s the Northwestern Law School Center on Wrongful Convictions and attorney Jeff Urdangen forced the testing of semen found on the victim, and it was established that it excluded Evans and Terry. After their release, we sued the police officers involved in the investigation, who had manipulated evidence in order to make the neighborhood woman seem more credible. The police were from the same Area 2 we had sued in the George Jones case, and we were able to use much of the information about “street files” that we had gathered in that earlier case to establish liability in this case. Our client had suffered greatly while in prison, experiencing untreated mental illness, and when we were able to obtain a relatively modest settlement, $2.7 million (which would enable his family to take care of him for the rest of his life) we accepted, rather than take the risk of going to trial. Michael Evans, represented by other counsel, did go to trial and unfortunately received nothing.

In another DNA exoneration case we again teamed up with attorneys from Neufeld, Scheck and Brustin and represented Jerry Miller, who served 25 years for a 1981 rape and then was exonerated after he had served his full term. In Miller’s case, the eventual DNA testing not only showed that Miller was innocent, it also established who the actual perpetrator was – a vicious repeat sexual predator who had committed a string of sex attacks after the one for which Jerry was wrongly convicted. Miller’s case again involved a faulty eyewitness identification (as well as the same corrupt judge, Maloney, whom we had dealt with previously in the Fields and Bracy death penalty cases), but establishing liability involved proving more than just a mistake. We studied the forensic evidence that had been used against Jerry in the early 1980s, and suspected that the serological (blood and semen) evidence which the prosecution claimed was neutral was in fact strongly exculpatory of Jerry and had been misrepresented by the Crime Lab scientist. To prove this, we had to recreate the same testing which had been done in 1981-82 and show that any competent scientist would have obtained results which established Jerry’s innocence. Fortunately, we were able to do this – using, ironically, a brilliant scientist who had been one of the primary developers of DNA testing -  and on the verge of trial the City settled for $6.3 million.

We currently represent Randy Steidl, wrongly convicted of a 1986 double murder in downstate Paris, Illinois, who spent 12 years on death row, and an additional 5 years imprisoned before he was released in 2004 after a federal judge found that law enforcement had failed to produce exculpatory evidence. After his release, Randy distinguished himself by becoming a very public spokesperson for the campaign to abolish the death penalty in Illinois and throughout the U.S., eloquently demonstrating the danger of executing innocent persons. Presently, we represent Randy in civil  lawsuits against several of the law enforcement personnel involved in his prosecution, although the state police defendants have recently settled the claims against them for $2.5 million.

HISTORY BY SECTION

Early Days
The Murder of Fred Hampton
Government Surveillance
Representing the Panthers in Downstate Illinois
Attica New York Prison Riots
The Fred Hampton Murder Trial
Prisoner Rights Work
Puerto Rican Independence Movement and the Puerto Rican Community
Fred Hampton Appeal
George Jones Street Files and False Imprisonment
Representing Demonstrators, Protestors, and Activists
Greensboro
Puerto Rico Work Continues
Police Brutality and Torture
Continuing to Represent Demonstrators and Activists
The Attica Prison Civil Case
Continuing Work in Solidarity With Puerto Rico
Fighting the Death Penalty
Sexual Abuse Litigation and Illegal Strip Search
Back to the Supreme Court
The 1996 Democratic Convention
Policy and Practice Cases
False Arrests and Convictions
Continuing to Defend Dissent
Continuing the Fight for Justice in the Chicago Police Torture Cases
Criminal Defense for Civil Rights Abuses
Jail Suicide
Opposing the Criminalization of the LGBTQ Community
People’s Law Office and The National Lawyers Guild