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Illinois Man Awarded $15 Million for 15 Years of Wrongful Imprisonment

On October 29, 2001, a federal jury in Chicago awarded $15 million plus about $2 million in attorney fees to James Newsome, 45, who was wrongfully convicted of murder and spent 15 years behind bars. It was the largest wrongful imprisonment verdict in Illinois history.

In 1979, Newsome was arrested on the South Side of Chicago on murder and armed robbery charges. Convicted in 1980, Newsome was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. He was exonerated and released in 1994 after obtaining a court order to test fingerprints left by the murderer that were ignored by detectives in 1979. A student at the University of Chicago-Kent School of Law, who was working for Newsome's original trial attorney Richard King, had pressed for the court order.

During the civil trial, one witness testified that he identified Newsome in a lineup that was rigged by Chicago police detectives Edward McNally and John McCabe. The witness stated that the detectives repeatedly told him to look at No. 3 in the lineupidentified as Newsome. Newsome also testified at the civil trial that he saw the detectives pointing toward him as another witness, who is now deceased, viewed the lineup. McNally and McCabe deny rigging any lineup.

The jury returned its record verdict after hearing testimony from Newsome on his experiences behind bars. He told how he survived a knife attack, the arson of his cell, and how gangs controlled daily prison life. Jurors were also allowed to view a life-size replica of Newsome's 8-foot-by-12-foot cell at the Stateville Correctional Center. Newsome told how he was confined to that cell 24 hours a day for as long as four months at a time. "One man's dignity is priceless," said Philip S. Beck, who, along with David Odom, represented Newsome. The attorneys had sought $50 million in damages.

"I was sentenced to die in prison," said Newsome. "The only way I was ever going to leave prison was on a gurney."

Readers should note that this case is among a series alleging that the predominantly white Chicago police force framed innocent blacks in the 1970s and 1980s. Most exonerated prisoners don't sue, and those who do get little, if any, money. "These cases are very difficult to win," says Odom. See: Newsome v. McCabe , No. 96C7680 (N.D. Ill.).

Source: The National Law Journal ;Chicago Tribune

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Related legal case

Newsome v. McCabe