The District of Columbia agreed Thursday to pay $16.65 million to a man who spent 27 years in prison for a rape and murder he didn’t commit.
The amount is about $617,000 for every year Donald Eugene Gates spent in prison. Gates was freed in 2009 after DNA evidence cleared him in the 1981 rape and murder of 21-year-old Georgetown University student Catherine Schilling. A federal jury on Wednesday found that two city police officers fabricated and withheld evidence in the case, and city officials agreed to a settlement Thursday as the jury was getting ready to decide damages in the case.
According to court records, former homicide detectives Ronald S. Taylor and Norman Brooks, both now retired, fed information to an unreliable informant. The informant claimed Gates confessed to him while in jail and that he was tied to DNA evidence. This led to a D.C. Superior court finding Gates guilty and he was sentenced to life in prison. During this time, Gates maintained his innocence and suffered until 2009. It was then that he was cleared based on DNA evidence and the real culprit was identified. Because of the conduct of the officers and his wrongful imprisonment, Gates was earlier awarded $1.4 million under a law that gives $50K per year of imprisonment of innocent people who waive their rights to sue the US government.
In response to the jury verdict, Gates is quoted as saying, “It feels like the God of the King James Bible is real, and he answered my prayers.” Gates, who lives in Knoxville, Tenn., added as he left the courtroom, “Justice is on the way to being fulfilled. . . . It’s one of the happiest days of my life.”