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Exonerated Illinois Man Receives $7.6 Million Settlement

The City of Chicago paid $7,625,000 to settle a civil rights action brought by a former prisoner who was wrongfully convicted of rape and exonerated by DNA evidence.

Dean Cage was 27 years old when he was arrested for the November 1994 rape of a 15-year-old girl as she walked to school on a dark Chicago street. The victim, Loretta Zilinger, was attacked from behind and brutally raped orally and anally in a stairwell. After treatment at a hospital, she helped police create a composite sketch of a tall African-American suspect.

Following a tip, Zilinger was taken to Cage’s place of employment and identified him as her attacker. After his arrest, police came to believe Cage was a serial rapist involved in up to eight area sexual assaults. He was acquitted in a second criminal case “when the DNA evidence from the rape kit excluded him as the rapist,” his civil rights complaint stated.

There was no physical evidence tying Cage to Zilinger’s rape. His conviction rested upon the detectives’ use of “unduly suggestive procedures to secure an identification of him by the rape victim,” according to the law firm of Loevy & Loevy, which represented Cage in his lawsuit.

Detectives “manufactured ‘evidence’ that falsely implicated” Cage, the complaint alleged. That included Chicago crime lab analysts who tested Zilinger’s clothing and created a misleading report about the presence of biological evidence that concealed exculpatory evidence.

Information on the alleged “anonymous tip” that implicated Cage, as well as all information received as a result of the publication of the composite sketch, was destroyed by the police.

Cage testified in his defense at his 1996 trial, maintaining his innocence. “His fiancée provided an alibi, confirming that he had not yet left the house for work at the time the attack was reported to have taken place.” Yet based upon Zilinger’s identification, the testimony of police detectives and the questionable crime lab reports, Cage was convicted and sentenced to 40 years in prison.

His appeals were denied, as were efforts to have DNA evidence tested at his family’s expense. Finally, in 2006, the Cook County State Attorney’s Office agreed to allow DNA testing. The results exonerated Cage and the charges were dismissed; prior to his conviction Cage had no criminal record. Following his release in May 2008, he met and reconciled with Zilinger.

The settlement of Cage’s subsequent lawsuit resulted in a $6,875,000 payment to Cage plus $750,000 in attorney fees for Loevy & Loevy. Following the settlement, an agreed order of dismissal in the case was entered on January 23, 2015. See: Cage v. City of Chicago, U.S.D.C. (N.D. Ill.), Case No. 1:09-cv-03078.

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Related legal case

Cage v. City of Chicago