CHICAGO (CN) - Five innocent young men spent 19 years in prison because police coerced confessions and withheld evidence about a girl's rape and murder, the exonerated men claim in Federal Court.
The five men sued six Illinois State Police officers, the Village of Dixmoor and three former top officers in the Dixmoor Police Department, in separate federal complaints.
Dixmoor, pop. 400, is a southern suburb of Chicago, near Harvey, Ill.
The men say they were wrongly convicted of raping and murdering 14-year-old Cateresa Matthews, while police left the real perpetrator on the streets.
The five men - James Harden, Robert Taylor, Jonathan Barr, Robert Veal, and Shainne Sharp - are all represented by the law offices of Loevy & Loevy.
They sued Illinois State Police Officers Tasso Kachiroubas, John Meduga, Willie Davis, James Kizart, Jesse Garcia and Richard Packert; the Village of Dixmoor; and Dixmoor's former police Lt. Joseph Falica Jr., Deputy Police Chief Michael Morgan, and former Police Chief Nicholas Graves.
Plaintiff Harden's complaint states: "Along with his co-defendants, Jonathan Barr, Robert Taylor, Robert Veal and Shainne Sharp, James Harden was wrongfully convicted for allegedly raping and murdering a 14-year-old girl, Cateresa Matthews. Mr. Harden was sentenced to spend 120 years in prison. Mr. Harden and his co-defendants were all between 14 and 16 years of age at the time Ms. Matthews was murdered."
Harden and his co-defendants, and now co-plaintiffs, spent 19 years in prison before DNA testing proved that "the true perpetrator of Ms. Matthews' rape and murder was a then-33-year-old convicted sex-offender Willie Randolph, a stranger to Mr. Harden and his co-defendants," the complaint states.
Quotations in this article are taken from Harden's complaint.
He and his co-plaintiff claim that the defendant officers ignored evidence implicating Randolph, specifically, that Randolph "had previously used the exact same field where Ms. Matthews was raped and murdered to rape another young teen."
Forensic evidence also excluded any of the teens as Matthews' rapist. But the defendants "created a false case against James Harden, his brother Jonathan, and the other teens. Focusing first on a 15-year-old special education student whose developmental disabilities were so severe that he had been removed from his public school, defendant Officers coerced and fabricated three confessions from young teenagers implicating Mr. Harden and the other teens," the complaint states.
According to the complaint, the police suspected Harden because he had dated the victim when they were younger.
To build their case, police arrested Robert Veal, then 15, who had an IQ of 56, and coerced him to "falsely implicate himself, Mr. Harden, Robert Taylor, Jonathan Barr, and Shainne Sharp in the rape and murder of Ms. Matthews. The facts contained in that false confession were fed to him by the defendant officers," the complaint states.
It continues: "This included nonpublic facts about the crime, such as: that Ms. Matthews was killed in a field near the expressway, that she was wearing a Chicago Bulls jacket, which was pulled off during the assault, that her jeans were pulled off during the assault, that she was shot in the face, and that she had been wearing a ring and a bracelet. Defendant officers falsely reported that these details had originated with Robert Veal and suppressed that they had supplied this information to him, as well as the coercion they had used to obtain the statement.
"Defendant officers handwrote a false statement that Mr. Veal ultimately signed."
Taylor and Sharp also claim that their confessions were physically coerced by the police.
After spending 19 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, Harden seeks "accountability and compensation for losing more than half of his life to Defendants' misconduct, including the most formative and vibrant years of a man's life, when he would have otherwise been graduating from high school, pursuing a career, and starting a family."
Harden, Taylor and Barr sought post-conviction DNA testing in 2009. The DNA test excluded all five men, and revealed the crime had been committed by a single man, Harden's complaint states. Illinois State Police matched it to Willie Randolph in 2011, a "convicted sex offender with a long and violent criminal history who at the time of the murder had recently been paroled from prison to the neighborhood where the victim's body was found," the complaint states.
The Cook County Court vacated all five men's convictions in late 2011 or early this year. Illinois granted Harden a certificate of innocence this year, without objection from the prosecution.
The five men seek punitive damages for violation of due process, failure to intervene, conspiracy, malicious prosecution, and emotional distress.
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.