CHICAGO (CN) – A man who was wrongly convicted of a rape he did not commit can pursue a civil-rights and malicious-prosecution case against the police officer whose conduct allegedly sealed the conviction, a federal judge ruled.
After a Woodbridge, Ill., woman was raped in November 1987, police officers including Detective James Grady, arrived on the scene and collected physical evidence, including two pairs of underwear the victim had worn after the rape.
Three days later, the woman looked at a photo array made up of “five shots of men taken from the archive” and “Lyons’ employee photo in which he is smiling and wearing a tie,” according to the ruling. The accuser hesitated for five full minutes before picking the odd man out, one of her friends later testified.
Lyons submitted to various physical tests, including blood and saliva tests, and his attorneys requested to examine two pairs of underwear in evidence.
On the date set for trial, “Grady checked out all evidence from the property control locker,” including the underwear, according to the ruling.
Ultimately, that second pair of underwear mysteriously disappeared. “The last known whereabouts of the [second pair of] underpants is that they were in Grady’s possession,” the ruling states.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys told the court that the first pair of underwear had tested negative for semen, but Grady knew only the second pair had been tested.
Although Grady was present at trial, “at no point did [he] tell the [attorneys] that the underpants were never tested,” the ruling states.
Grady also testified at trial that the accuser’s shaky identification of Lyons was “unhesitating.”
“In 2006, after living with a wrongful rape conviction for almost two decades, Lyons became aware of an Illinois statute that permitted post-conviction testing of evidence,” the ruling states. “He hired a lawyer, who succeeded in winning the State’s Attorney’s support of a plan to perform DNA testing of two exhibits from his criminal trial, the bra and the underpants worn by [redacted] immediately after the rape.” Subsequent tests proved that Lyons was innocent, and that tests available in 1987 should have proven him innocent as well.
Lyons filed a suit, claiming Grady withheld exculpatory evidence in violation of his due-process rights. “Though Grady was performing a discretionary function at the time, the facts indicate that “he [may have] deliberately suppressed evidence in such a way that Lyons could not make use of it,” according to the ruling.
Grady, who is the only remaining defendant, moved to dismiss the claims and for qualified immunity, but U.S. District Judge Ronald Guzman refused both requests.
Lyons can thus claim civil-rights violations based on the overly suggestive photo array and Grady’s failure to inform attorneys that they were misinformed about whether the underwear had been tested.
A trial date will be set on June 22.