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.”
Cook County jurors on Tuesday awarded $1 million to a man who was wrongfully held in jail for more than a year. John Collins, a 42-year-old Chicago barber, was arrested in 2006 and spent 385 days in jail due to false charges of aggravated battery to a police office, officials said. After a three-day trial, a jury found the city of Chicago and Chicago police Officer Michael Garza guilty of malicious prosecution.
“I felt like a right in the pool of wrong,” Collins said of his time in jail. “I didn’t want to swim in that pool no more, but I didn’t want to drown either. So I kept fighting.” When officers pulled Collins over in 2006, he’d just left his salon. One officer accused him of kicking and spitting on them, but a jury acquitted Collins and he was released from Cook County in 2007.
“All I know is that I ended up a victim,” he said. Collins said the trauma and distress is still with him. “I was just devastated,” he said. “I was just devastated.” Collins missed the birth of his now 7-year-old son Elwood while in jail, a moment he said he can never get back. Since his release, Collins has worked continuously in his Dolton salon, and noted the verdict brings him a step closer to having his life back. “I’m thankful that someone’s seen justice,” he said.
A spokesman for the city’s Law Department said they are “disappointed” in the verdict in the case and said they plan to “explore all available options including an appeal.”
CLEVELAND, Ohio — A federal jury awarded $13.2 million to a former housing authority security officer Friday after finding two Cleveland detectives fabricated or withheld evidence at his 2000 murder trial.
David Ayers, 56, who spent 11 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit, and several jurors wept as the verdict against detectives Denise Kovach and Michael Cipo was read in U.S. District Court.
“These detectives didn’t do their jobs at all,” juror Stephanie Kocian told The Plain Dealer in an interview. “They manipulated the evidence, and didn’t look at anyone else except the most convenient suspect to convict. The word ‘railroaded’ was thrown around the jury room during deliberations.”
At the time of his 1999 arrest, Ayers had been working for more than eight years as a security officer with the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority. He was accused and eventually convicted of the beating death 76-year-old Dorothy Brown, who lived in a CMHA high rise in Cleveland.
Ayers continued to maintain his innocence, filing appeals while serving a life prison term for aggravated murder. He finally prevailed in 2011, when DNA tests proved that a single pubic hair found in Brown’s mouth did not come from him.
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — In 1931, Alabama wanted to execute the black Scottsboro Boys because two white women claimed they were gang-raped. Now, state officials are trying to exonerate them in a famous case from the segregated South that some consider the beginning of the modern civil rights movement.
Two Democratic and two Republican legislators unveiled proposals Monday for the legislative session starting Tuesday. A resolution labels the Scottsboro Boys as “victims of a series of gross injustice” and declares them exonerated. A companion bill gives the state parole board the power to issue posthumous pardons.
Republican Sen. Arthur Orr of Decatur said Alabama can’t change history, “but that does not that mean we should not take steps today to address things that we can here in the 21st century that might not have been as they should have been.”
Gov. Robert Bentley’s press secretary, Jennifer Ardis, said he supports the effort to pardon the Scottsboro Boys and believes “it’s time to right this wrong.”
Sheila Washington, founder of the Scottsboro Boys Museum and Cultural Center in Scottsboro, started organizing the effort after the museum opened in 2010.
Ronald Bozeman was in good spirits according to the New York Post after being released from prison last week. Bozeman, 65, had spent over a year in jail for a crime he did not commit.
Bozeman was cleared of all charges related to a $9,000 robbery that occurred in downtown Brooklyn last year. Two witnesses had asserted to a grand jury that Bozeman was the gunman. Court records show these witnesses subsequently named another man, George Johnson, as the gunman during a second grand jury.
Prosecutors have moved forward in the case against Johnson. A spokesman for the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office said in a statement: “Based on a faulty ID procedure which we discovered and alerted the defense attorney to, we moved to have the charges against Bozeman dismissed.” Johnson has pleaded guilty to participation in the robbery.
Bozeman, who was held without bail and faced life in prison, was freed last Wednesday. “I feel relieved and not as bitter as I thought I would be,” he told the press. “The first thing I’m going to do is go get something to eat with my family.”
This mishap is being compared to the case of Jabbar Collins, an innocent man who went to prison for 15 years after being prosecuted by the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office. Collins is now suing for $150 million in damages amid accusations that Michael Vecchione, who prosecuted this case, threatened a witness and withheld evidence for over a decade that could have exonerated Collins. Vecchione is now a top aide to Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes.