As reported this morning in the Chigago Tribune (here), the Illinois State Police has agreed to pay the state’s highest wrongful conviction compensation to date to five men wrongfully convicted of the 1991 rape and murder of Cateresa Matthews in Dixmoor, Illinois.
The five men — Robert Veal, Robert Taylor, James Hardin, Jonathan Barr, and Shainnie Sharp, who became known as “The Dixmoor Five”— were teens when arrested for the crime and were exonerated when DNA testing linked to another known felon. Two of the five had served sentences of ten years and three served nearly two decades before their release.
The federal lawsuit alleged that both State and Dixmore police ignored evidence of another perpetrator and coerced a confession that implicated the four others from 15-year-old Robert Veal, who “had an IQ of 56 and developmental disabilities.” The lawsuit alleged that the police “threatened and abused” some of the other teens, including beating 15-year-old Robert Taylor into confessing.
According to a case report provided by the Center on Wrongful Convictions on the National Registry of Exonerations (here), the teens were interrogated without benefit of counsel or parents present. Sharp signed a confession after 21 hours in police custody and a long interrogation. In spite of the fact that the teens’ confessions had many inconsistencies and that DNA testing before trial excluded the five and implicated a sole unidentified male, prosecutors pursued the five.
Although troubling inconsistencies in the confessions prompted a juvenile court judge to refuse to charge Barr and Taylor in adult felony court, this decision was overturned by an appellate court. All five were convicted of the crime. Veal and Sharp were sentenced to 20-year terms with opportunity for parole after seven in exchange for their testimony against the other three, two of whom were sentenced to 80 years and one to 85 years.
All appeals and DNA-testing requests were denied the men. In 2009 Harden sought again to do DNA testing of the rape kit evidence. The Dixmoor Police Department indicated that the evidence was lost, but following a court order that defense attorneys be given access to the evidence storage areas, the police located the evidence. DNA testing implicated seasoned felon Willie Randolph, who had been living in the area and at the time of the crime after serving a long prison sentence. This prompted the eventual exoneration of all of the Dixmoor Five.
According to the Tribune article, the settlement was included in a supplemental appropriations bill that has been signed by the governor. The town of Dixmoor has not yet settled with the five.
This Illinois award follows the recent report of another record-breaking settlement in which the City of New York has agreed to pay $40 million to the Central Park Five, who were wrongfully convicted of the brutal 1989 rape and bludgeoning of an investment banker jogging in the Park.