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Chicago Man Exonerated of Murder Awarded $13 Million after 22 Years in Prison

by Lonnie Burton

Following a trial that began on March 6, 2017, a federal jury awarded a former prisoner more than $13 million after he sued the City of Chicago, seven police officers and two Cook County prosecutors over his wrongful convictions for a 1992 double homicide.

Deon Patrick spent more than two decades in prison before prosecutors dismissed the charges against him in 2014. He filed his wrongful conviction suit in federal court that same year. The jury verdict came just four months after another Chicago man, Nathson “Nate” Fields, was awarded $22 million after spending more than 10 years on death row only to be later cleared of a 1984 double murder. [See: PLN, April 2017, p.30].

Court records show that Jeffrey Lassiter, a drug dealer, and Sharon Haugabook, a prostitute, were shot and killed in Lassiter’s apartment on November 16, 1992. Weeks later, police claimed they had arrested three people for drug possession, two of whom voluntarily implicated themselves, along with Patrick and several others, in the murders. Patrick was arrested the same day, after which the police said a witness picked him out of a lineup as one of the people she saw leaving the area near Lassiter’s apartment around the time of the shootings.

Police said that’s when Patrick confessed for the first time – after almost 30 hours in custody during which he was denied food, water and access to an attorney. Six of his co-defendants also allegedly confessed. However, each of the confessions placed a man by the name of Daniel Taylor in a prominent role in the planning and execution of the murders. Jail records later proved that Taylor was incarcerated at the time Lassiter and Haugabook were killed, undercutting the validity of the alleged confessions. As for Patrick, he claimed he had never voluntarily confessed to anything.

Taylor’s convictions for killing Lassiter and Haugabook were overturned about six months before Patrick’s charges were dismissed, and Taylor’s federal lawsuit over his wrongful conviction is still pending.

The prosecution’s case unraveled quickly after it was proven Taylor was locked up when the murders took place. Patrick’s attorneys claimed that in addition to the coerced and false confession, police manipulated evidence against him. For example, they withheld a statement from Taylor’s cellmate on November 16, 1992, who swore Daniel Taylor was incarcerated with him that night. That was crucial testimony because police and prosecutors claimed that Taylor’s brother often used Daniel’s name when he was arrested, thus making it possible that Daniel was not in fact in jail at the time of the murders.

Patrick also claimed he was not fingered in the police lineup, and that officers had lied about the results. Police intentionally omitted the fact that the witness did not positively identify Patrick or anyone else as the perpetrators, but affirmatively said no one in the lineup resembled anyone she saw near the crime scene that night, his complaint alleged. Patrick’s attorneys argued that the murders were only “solved” after detectives told officers to have the case wrapped up before they came back from their days off. Police then used sleep deprivation and starvation, among other tactics, to coerce the false confessions.

Faced with this mountain of evidence, Cook County prosecutors moved to dismiss the charges against Patrick. A judge granted that motion in 2014, and he was freed. Patrick, who was 20 at the time he was arrested, said he felt “like my day has finally come.” Now 43, he stated after the trial in his federal lawsuit that it was troubling for him to have to relive the case all over again “and listen to the lies.” After more than five weeks of testimony and two days of jury deliberation, Patrick said “they made me relive it. They tricked me into believing it was over in 2014” when his charges were dismissed.

In addition to the $13 million in compensatory damages, Patrick was awarded another $90,000 in punitive damages against six Chicago police officers, while the two Cook County prosecutors were found not liable by the jury. Patrick had previously received $217,000 in state compensation, as did Taylor.

Despite the verdict, Patrick expressed skepticism with the justice system. “It’ll never be right in my eyes,” he said. “It didn’t start and end. They’re going to continue to do it as much as they can get away with it.”

Patrick was represented by attorneys Stuart J. Chanen, Nicole Nehama Auerbach and Daniel Wucherer with the Valorem Law Group in Chicago. The case remains pending on post-trial motions. See: Patrick v. City of Chicago, U.S.D.C. (N.D. Ill.), Case No. 1:14-cv-03658. 

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Related legal case

Patrick v. City of Chicago