(CN) – The 1st Circuit upheld a $101.7 million judgment against the government for withholding evidence that could have exonerated four men who spent three decades in prison for a gang murder they didn’t commit. Two of the men died in prison.
Judge Selya said the four men were “scapegoats” in the 1965 murder of Edward “Teddy” Deegan in Chelsea, Mass. The charges had been based solely on the testimony of Joseph Barboza, a cooperating witness with mob connections.
Peter Limone Sr., Enrico Tameleo, Louis Greco Sr. and Joseph Salvati each received stiff sentences, according to the ruling.
Three decades later, the FBI disclosed that its agents had withheld “reliable intelligence” that undercut Barboza’s testimony, the ruling states.
As a result, all four convictions were vacated. But Limone was the only one released, because Tameleo and Greco had died in prison, and Salvati had been paroled.
Salvati, Limone, and the estates of the others sued the government for wrongful imprisonment and intentional infliction of emotion distress, and were awarded more than $100 million in damages by U.S. District Judge Nancy Gertner.
The Justice Department appealed, objecting to what it considered an “excessive” award.
The appellate judges in Boston conceded that the damages were “considerably higher” than what they would have awarded, but said it’s hard to assign value to what the plaintiffs lost in jail for so many years.
“[P]lacing a dollar value on the emotional pain incident to wrongful incarceration, the dreary sameness of life behind bars for years on end, and the loss of freedom, relationships, and hope cries out for approximation,” Judge Selya wrote.
The court also blasted the Justice Department for “egregious governmental misconduct,” saying the FBI agents “exhibited a callous disregard for the scapegoats’ rights.”