A federal Jury Tuesday awarded $25 million to a suburban man who sued the City of Chicago after spending 16 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit.
Attorneys for the plaintiff, Thaddeus "T.J." Jimenez, say they believe the award is the largest ever by a U.S. jury in a wrongful conviction case.
"Sometimes the criminal justice system makes a mistake," said Jon Loevy, one of Jimenez’s attorneys. "In this case, we proved that’s exactly what happened."
The jury, after sitting through a two-week trial at the Dirksen Federal Building, deliberated for about a day, Loevy said.
"We are very disappointed with the decision," said Roderick Drew, a spokesman for the city’s Department of Law. "We will be exploring all available options."
Jimenez was 13 when he was arrested in the 1993 gang-related slaying of Eric Morro, 19, near the intersection of West Belmont and North Sacramento avenues. Jimenez was convicted in two separate trials, but was freed in 2009, after a witness recanted and investigators analyzed a recording of a man admitting to the shooting. An Indiana man, Juan Carlos Torres, has been charged in Morro’s case and is awaiting trial.
In 2010, Cook County Criminal Court presiding Judge Paul Biebel Jr. signed Jimenez’s “certificate of innocence,” clearing the way for Jimenez to receive state compensation for his wrongful imprisonment.
Loevy said Tuesday that police had “framed” Jimenez.
"They strong-armed witnesses into falsely implicating [Jimenez], and when the real suspect turned up, they chose to ignore him because they had already built the case against the wrong guy,” Loevy said.
Loevy said he is hesitant to criticize Cook County prosecutors in their handling of the case because “they recognized there had been an injustice and they corrected it.”
Jimenez, who now is in his early 30s, lives in the western suburbs and works at a Sonic restaurant, Loevy said.
In December 2011, Jimenez was convicted of illegally possessing drugs and now faces up to three years in prison at his sentencing Feb. 1.