$25 Million Damages Award Upheld on Appeal
CHICAGO (CN) - A Chicago man who was wrongly convicted of murder and incarcerated for nearly two decades because of police misconduct deserves $25 million in damages, the 7th Circuit ruled.
Thaddeus Jimenez was 15 years old when he was convicted of Eric Morro's murder on a Chicago street in 1993 and sentence to 50 years in prison. Despite a retrial on the charges four years later, he spent the next 16 years in prison.
Then, in 2009, the State's Attorney and his own lawyers filed a motion to vacate the sentence based on what they claimed were the coercive tactics former Chicago police detective Jerome Bogucki employed upon potential witnesses during his investigation.
The attorneys prevailed and Jimenez was eventually awarded a certificate of innocence.
He then filed a complaint against the city and Bogucki on claims of malicious prosecution, deprivation of due process and conspiracy.
At the trial the jury was told Bogucki led witnesses to believe the shooter was wearing a blue and white Duke University jacket, which he knew Jimenez owned.
Jimenez's Duke jacket was never tested and later "disappeared," according to the 7th Circuit's recounting of the case.
Bogucki was also accused of tainting a witnesses' identification of Jimenez in a lineup by showing her a picture of Morro's corpse next to a picture of Jimenez beforehand.
A number of other witnesses and friends of Morro also came forward, accusing Bogucki of using coercion to convince them to testify that Jimenez was the killer.
In 2012, the jury found for Jimenez on all claims, awarding him $25 million in compensatory damages.
The 7th Circuit affirmed the award Monday, rejecting the city's objections to Jimenez's expert on police practices, Gregg McCrary.
"The defendants argue at length that McCrary's disputed testimony affected their substantial rights. But the bulk of their argument depends on comparing McCrary's 'lengthy and purposeful' testimony with the 'weaknesses' of Jimenez's claims - in other words, re-weighing the evidence while drawing all inferences in the defendants' favor. We may not do so," U.S. Circuit Judge David Hamilton said, writing for the three-judge panel.
"He told the jury what a reasonable police investigator should have done when presented with these conflicting and/or inculpatory statements during the murder investigation. This was within the bounds of proper testimony for a police practices expert," Hamilton wrote.
The trial court also did not err by refusing to instruct the jury to base its verdict solely on five pieces of evidence. Defendants claimed they had no prior notice of due-process violations named by Jimenez's counsel in closing arguments.
But, "contrary to the defendants' contention, these Brady theories were not stand-alone due process claims, and they certainly did not require Jimenez to amend his complaint in the middle of trial to add such factual detail to the pleadings. Defendants have not shown that they were unfairly blindsided or that Jimenez's trial evidence contradicted his discovery responses. Since the supposedly new arguments were based on properly admitted evidence, Jimenez's counsel was entitled to argue the effect of the evidence in closing," Hamilton wrote.