City to award $3.4 million to man cleared of murder after spending eight years in prison
BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter firstname.lastname@example.org October 1, 2012 6:12PM
10-8-10 Cook County Jail Guard Shack. 2700 S. California Avenue. Chicago, Illinois. "FREEDOM" Maurice Patterson walks out of Cook County Jail Friday evening. Photo by Scott Stewart/Sun-Times
Updated: November 3, 2012 6:19AM
Maurice Patterson never got the apology he wanted from the judge who sentenced him to 30 years in prison for a murder he did not commit. But, he’s about to get something more valuable from Chicago taxpayers: a $3.4 million settlement.
On Tuesday, the City Council’s Finance Committee will be asked to sign off on the payment, culminating a legal odyssey that saw Patterson spend eight years behind bars only to be released in October, 2010 after DNA evidence cleared him of the murder.
Before being sentenced, Patterson told a judge he was innocent and asked the judge whether, if he was ultimately cleared of the crime, “Are you going to be here to apologize to me?”
Patterson never got that apology — even after DNA evidence cleared him of the murder.
The evidence was taken from a knife that Cook County prosecutors originally claimed had no connection to the crime. As the DNA test showed years later, the knife had the victim’s blood on it with the blood of another man, a convicted offender, who lived near the crime scene.
Patterson’s case was championed by Rob Warden of Northwestern University’s Center on Wrongful Convictions, but the process that ultimately freed him two years ago was set in motion by Patterson himself.
While imprisoned, Patterson filed a Freedom of Information request for the lab report on the knife. The request came through after the Center on Wrongful Convictions had already taken the case. Warden could not be reached for comment.
After the new evidence came to light, Judge David Linn ordered a new trial in November, 2009. Less than a year later, the Cook County state’s attorney’s office dropped all charges, and Linn ordered Patterson, now 46, released.
On the day he walked out of Cook County Jail into his family’s embrace, Patterson held up two paperback books that had given him hope during those eight long years behind bars.
The books were John Grisham’s The Innocent Man and Courtroom 302, a non-fiction book on the Cook County court system by Steve Bogira.
Patterson proclaimed on that day that he never gave up hope that he would be cleared.
“I always [believed] through the grace of God. I spoke all this into existence. I proved my innocence.”
As for police and prosecutors who declared in court that victim Robert Head’s blood was not found on the knife recovered near the murder scene, Patterson said, “They’re evil, but I forgive them through the grace of God.”
The Cook County state’s attorney’s office has said it prosecuted the case “in good faith based on eyewitness accounts and forensic evidence that was believed to be the totality of the evidence.”
The Center on Wrongful Convictions has accused prosecutors of making “factually incorrect” statements during the trial on “the most important facts of the case,” denying Patterson his right to use the knife to prove his innocence.