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Decades Lost to Chicago Frame Job, Man Says

CHICAGO (CN) - Chicago police framed a young black man with an "airtight alibi" for two murders and coerced witnesses to jail him for decades, he claims in Federal Court.

Recently certified as actually innocent of the murder for which he spent 23 years in prison, Lathierial Boyd sued Chicago, six named police officers and several unknown individuals in the Eastern Division of the Northern District of Illinois.

"Lathierial vastly underestimated the degree of racial prejudice that infected the named defendants in this matter," the 25-page complaint states. "With a 'maximum of hatred and a minimum of reason,' these defendants set out to frame Lathierial for two murders" that occurred outside a Wrigleyville reggae club in the wee hours of Feb. 24, 1990.

Eyewitnesses said the victims, Ricky Warner and Michael Fleming, had been selling drugs outside the club when a man approached, shot them and fled the scene, according to the complaint.

Boyd, at the time a 24-year-old real estate investor, international fashion model and father of two, says he had been 20 miles away that night, watching the Bulls game with his friend, Sheriff Harold Casey.

Days later, Warner, who was paralyzed from the neck down and could only communicate with a nurse's help, told detectives that he "could not identify the shooter because his back was turned at the time," the complaint states (emphasis in original).

"After he was shot and his spinal cord was severed, Ricky could not lift his head from the position where he landed on the ground to view the shooter."

There were also clues pointing to other suspects, according to the complaint.

After the shooting, police had allegedly found in Warner's pocket the phone number of a man named Breezo, "a vice lord gang member with a criminal past and a car of the same make as the one described as leaving from the scene."

Nevertheless, the officers forced Warner and his father to implicate Boyd by his nickname, "Rat," the 25-page complaint states.

"Rather than perform any reasonable investigation as to the possibility that Ricky and Michael were shot by individuals regarding their sales of fake drugs, including that of a Jamaican gang who had assaulted other individuals in the same area that night or into 'Breezo' as a viable suspect, the defendant officers decided it would be easier to frame 'Rat' for the crime," Boyd alleges. "They spent the next several months fabricating and concealing evidence to cause and continue Lathierial's prosecution, despite having no probable cause."

Boyd claims that he volunteered for a lineup as soon as he learned that he was a suspect.

Eyewitnesses had allegedly said the shooter was about 5-foot-8 with a small build, "midnight black" complexion, and square jaw, whereas Boyd was 6-foot-2, 215 pounds, light-skinned, and had a thin nose altered by plastic surgery.

Though "there was no way in the world" Boyd was guilty, he says the defendants - "desperate to solve the case" - put him away for 82 years.

"For years Lathierial tried to extricate himself from the Kafkaesque nightmare that had become his everyday reality," the complaint states. "He wrote thousands of letters, pleading with lawyers and the media to help him."

While Boyd was locked up, poor medical care left him permanently blind in one eye and he "nearly lost his mind as the years slipped away," the complaint states. "Of the 205,968 hours of his incarceration, Lathierial spent 191,616 hours locked in his cell. He sank into a black hole of depression so profound and debilitating that he frequently contemplated suicide as the only way to be free again. He lost contact with his children and many of his closest friends. He became a mere shadow of the man he had once been. His most frequent comment on his wrongful incarceration was 'I am dying in here, man, can't you see I am dying?'"

More than 8,500 days after Boyd's arrest in March 1990, the Cook County Conviction Integrity Unit's 2012-13 reinvestigation led state attorney Anita Alvarez to announce that all charges against Boyd would be dropped and that he would be released immediately on Sept. 10, 2013, the complaint states.

"It is my position that this man did not commit this crime," Alvarez allegedly told the press, noting that Boyd should never have been charged.

Boyd says he then filed for a certificate of innocence, which was granted Sept. 25.

Named as defendants are Officers Richard Zuley, Lawrence Thezan, Andrew Sobolewski, Steve Schorsch, John Murray and Wayne Johnson.

Boyd seeks $20 million in damages for violations of his right to due process under the 14th Amendment, concealment of evidence, failure to intervene, conspiracy, malicious prosecution and emotional.

He is represented by Kathleen Zellner of Downers Grove, Ill.

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