innocence blog

A Web log for the Innocence Institute of Point Park University

Friday, August 11, 2006

More Pay Sought In Wrongful Jailings

By Michael Higgins, Tribune staff reporter. Tribune staff reporter Jeff Coen contributed to this reportPublished August 10, 2006

One day after a jury rejected a Chicago man's civil rights lawsuit over his wrongful imprisonment, lawmakers and advocates said state law should be amended to ensure fair compensation for future victims.

Jurors rebuffed Michael Evans' lawsuit against 10 former Chicago police officers on Tuesday, leaving Evans with the $160,000 award he received from the state as compensation for his 27 years of false imprisonment.

The state compensation for Evans, who received a pardon last year from Gov. Rod Blagojevich based on innocence, was the maximum amount allowed under Illinois law, yet it amounted to only about $6,000 for each year that Evans spent behind bars.That's not enough, according to advocates for the wrongfully convicted and at least two state lawmakers.

"I wouldn't say $160,000 is adequate for the amount of years the gentleman has been in jail," said House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, who helped push through the state's current compensation law in the mid-1990s.

"I would hope the legislature would go back and re-address the whole issue. ... Maybe this is the kind of jump-start we need."State Rep. Mary Flowers (D-Chicago) said Wednesday that this fall she would reintroduce a bill, proposed twice before, that would boost the state's compensation for wrongfully imprisoned inmates.

Evans and Paul Terry were convicted at age 17 of the 1976 abduction, rape and murder of 9-year-old Lisa Cabassa on the South Side. Both were sentenced to serve 200 to 400 years in prison and later exonerated by DNA testing.

In his civil lawsuit against the former police officers, Evans had sought $2 million for each year he spent in prison plus other damages.Settlement offered, sources saySources said the city of Chicago had offered Evans a settlement of $100,000 for every year he was imprisoned. Lawyers for the city had asked the jury to award that same amount if they found for Evans.

Evans had hoped to prove in his civil suit that police intentionally manipulated evidence and coerced a key witness against him in a plot to send him to prison. But jurors rejected Evans' $60 million lawsuit.Currie and others contend that even so, the legal system has still failed when a person is wrongly imprisoned.

"It doesn't matter whether police acted wrongly or a prosecutor acted wrongly, it's the same damage for the innocent person who went to prison," said Karen Daniel, a senior staff attorney at Northwestern University School of Law's Center on Wrongful Convictions. Daniel represented Evans when he sought state compensation."You're harmed regardless of how you got there," Daniel said.

"You're still losing that part of your life."Nationwide, a spate of exonerations based on DNA evidence has focused new attention on states' compensation statutes.Since 1999, at least eight states have either enacted compensation laws or boosted the amount that inmates can collect, said Adele Bernhard, a professor at Pace Law School in White Plains, N. Y.

According to Bernhard, Illinois' system compared favorably to the national norm in the late 1990s, but has slipped since--in part because no one can apply for compensation without a pardon based on innocence from the governor.

Some other states allow inmates to apply for compensation if their convictions were thrown out on grounds consistent with innocence, Bernhard said.In California, for example, an inmate can now collect $100 a day, a formula that would have entitled Evans to $36,500 a year or almost $1 million in all.

Tennessee passed a law with a $1 million cap. New York has no limit on awards.Today, 21 states plus the federal government have compensation statutes. Falsely imprisoned defendants in those states that don't have statutes sometimes ask the legislature to pass special bills to provide compensation in their case only.

The compensation statutes are important because most wrongfully convicted inmates, even those who are later exonerated by DNA, are hard-pressed to win a civil rights lawsuit, experts said.To win, the former inmates must prove that police intentionally violated their constitutional rights by, for example, manipulating witnesses or withholding or fabricating evidence.

Defendants won't win if they were wrongfully convicted because, say, an eyewitness misidentified them.According to Jon Loevy, attorney for Evans, it means showing "that somebody was actively engaged in framing you."Some court winsSome inmates do win in court.

James Newsome won a $15 million verdict in 2002 in federal court in Chicago after arguing at trial that police had rigged the lineup in which he was identified, leading to his wrongful conviction for murder.

Another federal jury in Chicago awarded more than $6.5 million to Steve Manning last year, after Manning accused two FBI agents of framing him and sending him to Illinois' Death Row.But more typical, experts say, are the cases of Evans and Anthony Porter, who was exonerated in 1999 for a double-murder in Chicago but saw his lawsuit rejected by a Cook County jury last year.

Still waiting to present his case to a jury is Evans' co-defendant in the Cabassa murder, Paul Terry, who also was released and pardoned after the DNA testing.Terry's case could be heard by a jury in state court within a year, said one of this lawyers, Jeffrey Urdangen, of the Bluhm Legal Clinic at Northwestern University.

Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune

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