$40 million settlement between ‘Dixmoor 5’ and Illinois State Police
BY KIM JANSSEN Staff Reporter June 25, 2014 8:12AM
Four of the "Dixmoor 5" are shown when they announced the filing of their federal lawsuit. | Sun-Times File Photo
Updated: June 25, 2014 8:39PM
Between them Robert Taylor, Jonathan Barr, James Harden, Shainne Sharp and Robert Veal served more than 70 years for a 1991 rape and murder they did not commit.
But a record $40 million the Illinois State Police this week agreed to pay them to settle their wrongful conviction lawsuit is just a “small measure of justice,” attorneys for the so-called “Dixmoor 5” say.
And at a news conference to announce the huge settlement Wednesday, they urged authorities to investigate why Cook County is suffering from what they called “an epidemic of false confessions.”
“What Cooperstown is to baseball, Chicago and Cook County has been to false confessions — it is not the ‘Hall of Fame,’ it is the ‘Hall of Shame,’” lawyer Peter Neufeld said.
“If you took all the documented false confessions in the major cities of America and combined them, the number would be lower than the number in Cook County.”
Neufeld — who represented Barr — was taking a victory lap alongside attorneys John Stainthorp, Jon Loevy, Locke Bowman, Jon Erickson, Michael Oppenheimer, Henry Turner and Russell Ainsworth after reaching the huge settlement on behalf of the Dixmoor 5 with the state police.
Their lawsuit alleged that Illinois State Police teamed up with Dixmoor cops to frame the then-teenaged Taylor, Barr, Harden, Sharp and Veal with the 1991 rape and murder of 14-year-old Cateresa Matthews.
Cateresa disappeared after leaving her grandmother’s Dixmoor home on Nov. 19, 1991, heading home. Her body was found three weeks later in a field near I-57, dead from a single gunshot to the mouth.
Unsolved for nearly a year, the case made headlines when authorities arrested the five teens, ages 14 to 16, in the fall of 1992. Prosecutors at the time said three of the teens confessed and implicated the others. But the lawsuit, filed in 2012, claimed officers coerced the confessions even though the suburb and State Police knew semen collected from Cateresa’s body excluded them.
Eventually, that DNA evidence exonerated the men, the last of whom were freed in 2011. The lawsuit alleges the DNA also identified the perpetrator as a convicted sex offender with no ties to the Dixmoor 5, but that person never has been charged in the case.
Authorities last month announced their investigation into Cateresa’s death has been reopened.
Though state police have settled the Dixmoor 5’s lawsuit, the suit will continue against the Village of Dixmoor, which has not agreed to settle.
Loevy said that though Dixmoor is a poor suburb, it’s important that it also has “accountability.”
He and the other attorneys said authorities haven’t done anything to find the “root cause” of what they said is Cook County’s reputation for forcing confessions from young black suspects in heater cases.
It’s a reputation that wasn’t helped when Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez controversially stated in a 2012 interview with 60 Minutes that the DNA evidence recovered from Cateresa’s body was not absolute proof of the Dixmoor 5’s innocence.
She also appeared to speculate in the 60 Minutes interview that the DNA evidence could have been left by a rapist who happened upon Cateresa’s body after she’d been murdered, but later angrily accused the show’s producers of misleadingly editing her and quoting her out of context.