CHICAGO (CN) - Investigators in Will County had "exceedingly weak evidence" and no probable cause to arrest Kevin Fox for the 2004 rape and murder of his 3-year-old daughter, the 7th Circuit ruled. But the court still reduced the $12.2 million awarded to Fox and his wife to about $8.16 million.
Fox's daughter, Riley, was found in a creek hours after Fox called police about her disappearance.
After several weeks of investigation, police arrested Fox after interrogating him and his wife, Melissa.
Fox said police bullied him into confessing to having accidentally killed his daughter.
Fox spent 243 days in jail before DNA evidence exonerated him of the crime. DNA samples on Riley's body and the duct tape on her mouth proved that Fox was innocent. The prosecutor dropped the charges the next day, and Fox was released.
He and his wife sued investigators Edward Hayes, Michael Guilfoyle, Scott Swearengen and Brad Wachtl over the allegedly coerced confession and incarceration. The Foxes accused them of conspiracy, false imprisonment and intentional infliction of emotional stress.
A jury awarded the couple $15 million in damages, but that award was later reduced to $12.2 million.
The investigators appealed, claiming they were entitled to a reversed verdict or a new trial.
The 7th Circuit agreed with the jury the officers failed to establish probable cause before arresting Fox.
The officers claimed that one of the reasons they suspected Fox was because Riley's injuries were too "minor" to suggest a sexual predator. Judge Terence T. Evans called that theory "absolutely absurd."
"Probable cause may be a loose concept, but it leaves no room for the absurd," Evans wrote for the three-judge panel.
"We do not second guess the judgment of officers lightly, but courts have an obligation to ensure that the reasons supporting an arrest are objectively reasonable," Evans added.
"The defendants present a laundry list of facts that they believe support a probable cause finding. Their list suffers from many shortcomings, the most serious being that it is comprised largely of disputed facts," the court concluded.
The court dismissed Fox's due process claim, however, saying it "consists of nothing more than a hybrid of his Fourth Amendment false arrest and state law malicious prosecution claims."
The panel also reduced the damages awarded to Fox and his wife from $12.2 million to about $8.16 million, saying the jury's awards of $1 million to Fox's wife for her emotional distress and $1.7 million to Fox for the false arrest were excessive.