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City of Chicago to pay man $3.6 million for wrongful conviction

Updated: April 14, 2012 8:06AM

Chicago taxpayers will pay $3.6 million to compensate a man who spent nine years in prison after allegedly being framed for an attempted murder he did not commit, under a settlement advanced Monday by a City Council committee.

Robert Wilson was picked up by the Chicago Police Department in 1997, one day after 24-year-old June Siler had her throat and face slashed with a box cutter. Wilson was waiting at the same South Side bus stop where the attack occurred.

Wilson confessed to attacking Siler but only after allegedly being held for 30 hours, physically abused, denied food, sleep and his blood pressure medication and threatened with more violence if he did not confess.

“Robert Wilson was deeply wronged by the Chicago Police Department. and payment of $3.6 million reflects at least a tacit acknowledgment of that reality,” said Locke Bowman, Wilson’s attorney.

“There was an investigation that settled on a convenient target within 24 hours of a high-profile, very vicious crime. Mr. Wilson was coerced into confessing through psychological and physical means. A witness was manipulated. And when the true perpetrator came to the attention of police two weeks later, they ignored his admission that he was the one who had committed the crime.”

Siler initially told the police that Wilson, now 56, looked too old to be her attacker. But officers allegedly coaxed her into identifying him.

Wilson was convicted of attempted murder — and sentenced to 30 years in prison — largely on the strength of Siler’s testimony and his contested confession.

In the two weeks after Wilson’s arrest, another man committed five similar attacks in the area. But the trial judge agreed to a prosecution request to exclude that information at Wilson’s trial.

In 2006, a federal judge ordered a new trial on the grounds that Wilson’s attorneys should have been allowed to present evidence of the other similar attacks. Siler recanted. Prosecutors dropped the case.

One year later, Wilson filed a lawsuit accusing police of falsifying evidence, manipulating the key witness and coercing Wilson into falsely confessing as part of a conspiracy to frame an innocent man with a crime they knew he did not commit.

The officers were accused of using a suggestive photo lineup in an attempt to trick Siler into identifying Wilson as her attacker. The police were also accused of falsely stating that the victim had “immediately” identified Wilson, even though Siler had hesitated.

Bowman said the city has “steadfastly kept its head in the sand” by failing to launch “any meaningful investigation” of the alleged wrongdoing that led to Wilson’s conviction.

He said the three officers involved in what he called “this misguided investigation and prosecution” have never been disciplined and are still employed by the Chicago Police Department.

During Monday’s Finance Committee meeting, First Assistant Corporation Counsel Leslie Darling outlined the details of Wilson’s ordeal and his 2008 gubernatorial pardon based on innocence.

Darling portrayed the settlement as a relative bargain when compared to Wilson’s original demand for $10 million.

“The proposed settlement, if approved by the [full] Council, is a cost-effective measure to limit the city’s financial exposure,” Darling said.

“If successful at trial, the city would also be liable for attorneys‚ fees and costs.”

The argument worked with Ald. “Proco” Joe Moreno (1st), who said, “I’m critical sometimes of these settlements. But in this case, the corp counsel has done a good job. $3.6 million is a lot of money, obviously. But after hearing that testimony, I think he deserves $10 million.”

Bowman said Wilson is unemployed and living in Chicago.

“His life was destroyed,” Bowman said. “A decade was sucked out of the middle of it.”

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