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Murder Suspect Says Cops Coerced Confession

CHICAGO (CN) - A 20-year-old charged with helping to murder a suburban man for gas money and a pair of diamond earrings claims suburban police officers coerced his confession.

Azari Braden sued the Villages of Arlington Heights and Harwood Heights, Cook County and its Sheriff Thomas Dart and four police and sheriff's officers, in Federal Court.

Defendants Scott Winkelman and Miguel Hernandez are Arlington Heights police officers; defendant John DeVries is a Harwood Heights police officer; defendant Victor Van Horn is a Cook County sheriff's officer.

In 2011, Braden, a 19-year-old student, "left his home in Chicago and dropped off his older brother, Armon Braden, and his brother's friend at an address on Oakton Street in Arlington Heights, Illinois," the complaint states.

"Unbeknownst to Braden, after dropping off his brother and his brother's friend on April 12, 2011, an Arlington Heights resident by the name of George Nellessen was robbed and murdered in his home; the same location where Braden had dropped off his older brother and his brother's friend.

"Braden was in no way involved in the robbery or murder.

"Several days later, on or about April 15, 2011, at approximately 3:30 p.m., as Braden was driving away from his residence, Braden was pulled over by several police squad cars bearing vehicle identifications from various Cook County police departments. ...

"After Braden pulled over the vehicle, some MCAT [Major Case Assistance Team] officers drew their guns and ordered Braden to the ground.

"Upon identifying themselves, officers informed Braden that they were looking for his brother. Nevertheless, even after discovering that Braden was not his brother, they proceeded to place Braden into handcuffs and forced him into the back of a squad car, taking him to the Rolling Meadows Police Department in Cook County, Illinois.

"When Braden was arrested and detained, defendant officers lacked both an arrest warrant and probable cause to arrest and/or detain him. In fact, on numerous occasions, some of the defendant officers informed Braden that he was not a suspect and that they knew he had no involvement in the crime."

Braden claims that for the next 36 hours defendants Winkelman, DeVries and Van Horn interrogated him and coerced him into signing a false confession.

"Braden repeatedly asked for his attorney to be present," the complaint states. "For example, during Braden's videotaped interrogation, Braden pleaded: 'I would like to have my lawyer present. Just, for legal reasons, I - cause I don't really don't know what's going on. Like this is overwhelming right now.' All of Braden's requests for an attorney, including the reference above, were ignored and/or denied by the defendant officers at various points during Braden's interrogation."

Braden claims the defendants told him he could go home "only if he did or said what defendants officers wanted him to do or say. Specifically, at some point on the videotape of Braden's interrogation, one of the defendant officers advised Braden, 'Do you want to be a witness on this, do you want to go to your home with your mom and not be charged on a crime, help us out and be honest.'"

He claims the officers also interrogated him "while handcuffed in the back seat of a police car. This unique in-car interrogation was not recorded despite a requirement that police officers in Illinois record all homicide interrogations as required under 725 ILCS 5/103-2.1."

Braden claims the defendants used his false, coerced confession to charge him with the armed robbery and murder of George Nellessen.

Prosecutors accused Braden of driving his brother and brother's friend to the Nellessen home in exchange for gas money and a pair of diamond earrings, where the brother and friend met the murder victim's son, who orchestrated the robbery and fatally stabbed his father in the neck, according to a Sept. 12, 2012 report in the Chicago Daily Herald.

Braden's bond, initially set at $1.5 million, was reduced to $20,000 after he spent "seventeen months wrongfully incarcerated for a crime of which he was completely innocent," the complaint states. "The months Braden spent in the Cook County Jail were frightening, degrading, and humiliating."

Braden's case is pending in Cook County Court.

He seeks punitive damages for violation of his Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

He is represented by Nnanenyem Uche.

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