Three men wrongfully convicted and imprisoned for more than a decade for the brutal rape and murder of a Chicago woman have received permission from a federal judge, in light of a recent federal appellate decision, to renew their claim that police and prosecutors violated their constitutional rights by fabricating evidence to falsely link them to the crime.
On July 9, U.S. District Court Judge Robert M. Dow Jr. granted the request of Michael Saunders, Vincent Thames and Harold Richardson to reconsider and reverse his earlier decision that dismissed one of the 11 counts in the lawsuit they brought against a group of Chicago police officers and prosecutors, as well as the City of Chicago and Cook County.
This particular count focused on the trio's claim that the alleged fabrication of evidence violated their due process rights and was dismissed in November 2013, when the judge sided with defendants' argument that precedent suggested the count should be handled through a claim made under a state law governing malicious prosecution.
But, Dow said in his recent ruling that a January decision by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Fields vs. Wharrie clarified what had appeared to some to be contradictory results in the case law, now indicating the precedent “definitively stands for the proposition that a prosecutor can violate one’s due process rights by fabricating evidence if that evidence is later used to deprive the defendant of liberty in some way.”
Therefore, Dow held, the evidence fabrication claim made by the three men should be heard in federal court.
His ruling comes in the suits Saunders, Thames and Richardson brought two years ago against Chicago Police Detectives Kenneth Boudreau, Richard Paladino, James Cassidy, Thomas Coughlin, William Foley, Frank Valadez and Pat McCafferty; Chicago Police Youth Officer Charles Bowen; Chicago Police Sgt. L. Tuldier; Cook County Assistant State’s Attorneys Fabio Valentini and Terence Johnson; and the city and county.
Their suit was filed after evaluation of DNA evidence linking another man, a deceased serial rapist and murderer known as Johnny “The Maniac” Douglas, to the crime prompted prosecutors in 2012 to drop the charges and declare them innocent.
The state issued declarations of innocence to the three men after they had spent 15 years in prison for rape and murder of Nina Glover – a crime they did not commit.
Glover’s strangled and beaten body was discovered by garbage collectors in a Dumpster behind a liquor store in the 1400 block of West Garfield Boulevard on the city’s South Side on Nov. 7, 1994.
According to the 2012 complaint brought by Saunders, Thames and Richardson, the trio, along with a fourth man, Terrill Swift, who were known collectively as the "Englewood Four, were detained by officers four months after the crime and subjected to “unconstitutional means,” including isolation, physical violence, threats and “outright fabrication,” to persuade the then-teenagers to confess to the crime.
The three men claim these measures took place despite “a mountain of evidence” linking Douglas to the crime, including officers’ “inexplicably” finding Douglas near the scene of the crime that morning and his past history of sexual assaults.
Among the other alleged constitutional rights violations, the men claim the defendant detectives concocted a story in which they used a shovel to strike the victim, then gang-raped her, killed her and used a mop to clean up the basement where police and prosecutors asserted the crime occurred.
The men said in their complaint the detectives then either planted a shovel and broken mop handle in a nearby lagoon and recovered them to adapt the story to fit the items.
The evidence, the suit alleges, helped lead to the conviction of Saunders and Richardson in 1997, and prompted Thames to plead guilty in early 1998. Saunders and Richardson were each sentenced to 40 years in prison, and Thames received a 30-year sentence.
Swift was sentenced to 36 years. Court records show he filed a federal suit in 2012 when the three other men did, but dismissed it the next day.
The trio's suits assert the alleged actions of police officers and prosecutors in their case fit “a pattern and practice” among Chicago Police at the time, who “systematically promoted the malicious prosecution of teenagers” and others to persuade false confessions.
Electronic court records show that a hearing before Magistrate Judge Sheila Finnegan was rescheduled last month to August 13 and that deadlines for discovery and motions were set last year for January and February 2015, respectively.
Richardson is represented by a team of attorneys at Loevy & Loevy in Chicago; Saunders is represented by Chicago lawyer John C. Benson, as well as attorneys with Neufeld Scheck & Brustin LLP in New York; and Thames is represented by Stuart Jay Chanen and Henry Turner at Valorem Law Group.
Some of the defendants, including the city, are being represented by attorneys at the Chicago law firms of Rock Fusco & Connelly LLC and James G. Sotos & Associates Ltd. The Cook County State's Attorney's Office is representing the county.