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Cleared Death Row inmate sought up to $18M; jury awards $80,000

NathsFields former Death Row inmate wants an investigatiafter jury awarded him only $80000. He spent 18 years prisbefore being cleared

Nathson Fields, a former Death Row inmate wants an investigation after a jury awarded him only $80,000. He spent 18 years in prison before being cleared of a double murder. | Rummana Hussain/Sun-Times

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Updated: June 3, 2014 6:24AM

A federal jury on Thursday morning awarded just $80,000 to a wrongfully convicted former Death Row resident who spent 18 years behind bars after a Chicago cop withheld or fabricated evidence against him.

Former El Rukn gang member Nathson Fields, who had asked for up to $18 million, called the award a “travesty” and called on U.S. Attorney Zach Fardon to investigate.

But the former CPD sergeant found liable earlier this week for withholding or fabricating evidence hailed the jury’s decision, saying the last month of his life had been “more stress than running in an alley getting shot at.”

A relieved David O’Callaghan said he the jury’s small award to Fields — which will be paid by Chicago taxpayers — proved he always ran clean investigations.

Convicted in 1986 of a double murder, Fields, now 60, spent 18 years behind bars, 12 of them on Death Row, before he was finally cleared at a retrial in 2009.

But it wasn’t until after he was cleared that a long-missing police file connected to his case was “discovered,” buried in an old filing cabinet in the basement of a South Side police station. Police and prosecutors for years denied the file existed, but Fields’ lawyers claimed it was deliberately hidden because it contained evidence that might have cleared Fields far sooner.

Chicago Police for decades had a policy of hiding detectives’ “street files” of notes from defendants, Fields’ attorneys claimed. Fields’ “street file” was found in a filing cabinet with unsolved cases dating back as far as 1944, they said.

Though jurors earlier this week rejected Fields’ claims against the city, two other cops and a prosecutor, they found that O’Callaghan did violate Fields’ right to due process by withholding or fabricating evidence.

Trial testimony suggested that police backdated statements and may have doctored lineups in an attempt to convict Fields.

Fields’ lawyers did not ask jurors for a specific amount, but hinted that $1 million for every year Fields spent behind bars was an appropriate amount.

Lawyers for the city argued Fields deserved nothing, maintaining that he was guilty of the double murder, despite his overturned conviction.

Speaking outside court Thursday, Fields said he was happy that jurors found O’Callaghan liable, but said he was saddened by the award of damages that amount to less than $5,000 for every year he spent behind bars.

He noted that there were no fellow African-Americans on his jury, and urged federal prosecutors to seize 20 filing cabinets of “street files” from the basement where his long lost file was found. If uncovered, street files from other cases will exonerate other wrongfully convicted prisoners, he said.

And his sister Ruth Sandifer said O’Callaghan should have been charged with attempted murder, because “he framed my brother to send him to Death Row.”


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