Thaddeus “T.J.” Jimenez spent 16 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit. Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon occurrence. There are many people behind bars for crimes they did not commit. I just watched a program where a man could not get help through the regular channels. He hired a private investigator who eventually dug up the truth, the man was given another trial, and he was found not guilty. He had spent about 20 years in prison.
Most wrongfully convicted people are not fortunate enough to be exonerated, let alone receive the type of reward Mr. Jimenez received. Attorneys for the plaintiff say they believe the award made Tuesday is the largest ever by a U.S. jury in a wrongful conviction case. Of course, you can’t put a price tag on someone’s life. You can never give back what that person lost.
“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.”
Jimenez sued the City of Chicago and his attorneys won his case. A federal jury awarded him $25 million.
After sitting through a two-week trial at the Dirksen Federal Building in Chicago, the jury deliberated for about a day. The evidence exonerating Mr. Jimenez must have been overwhelming for the jury to reach a decision so quickly.
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. He was then 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.
“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 that police had “framed” Jimenez.
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.
In what appears to be a show of appreciation and respect, 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.” You have to give the prosecutor’s office a lot of credit for correcting a wrong. They generally don’t want a wrongful conviction on their books. Anita Alvarez is Cook County’s State’s Attorney (shown in picture with Jimenez).
I am not so sure the fight is over yet for Jimenez based on a statement made by a spokesman for the city’s Department of Law. The spokesman, Roderick Drew, said, “We are very disappointed with the decision.” “We will be exploring all available options.”
Politics usually play a large part in these types of cases. For example, if it can be proved that those working on the case when Jimenez was arrested and convicted are guilty of any wrongful doing, they have to answer a lot of questions – even 16 years later.
Jimenez, who now is in his early 30s, lives in the western suburbs and works at a Sonic restaurant. He has another set of legal problems facing him. In December 2011, Jimenez was convicted of illegally possessing drugs and now faces up to three years in prison at his sentencing on Feb. 1.
Read story@ msnbc