Updated 06/24/14 – 10:09 a.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) — Five men wrongfully convicted of rape and murder in the infamous “Dixmoor 5” case have agreed to settle their federal lawsuit against Illinois State Police for $40 million.
WBBM Newsradio’s Mike Krauser reports attorneys for James Harden, Jonathan Barr, Robert Taylor, Robert Veal, and Shainne Sharp planned to formally announce the settlement agreement on Wednesday.
The men were imprisoned as teenagers after they were convicted for the 1991 rape and murder of 14-year-old Cateresa Matthews, who disappeared after leaving her grandmother’s home on Nov. 19, 1991. Her body was found weeks later in a field near Interstate 57. She had been killed by a single gunshot to the mouth.
DNA evidence later cleared the five young men of the charges. The men’s convictions were vacated in 2011. The DNA evidence in the case has implicated a convicted sex offender with no connection to the Dixmoor 5. That man has yet to be charged in Cateresa’s murder.
Attorneys for the Dixmoor 5 stood in the lobby of the Dirken Federal Courthouse on Wednesday, without their clients, to formally announce the settlement with Illinois State Police.
Peter Neufeld had what might have been the strongest words, saying there is an epidemic of false confessions in Cook County.
“What Cooperstown is to baseball, Chicago and Cook County has been to false confessions,” he said. “It is not the Hall of Fame, it is the Hall of Shame.”
Neufeld claimed there are more false confessions in Cook County than the rest of the nation combined. He said it’s a problem that’s doomed to be repeated unless there’s an investigation.
Jon Loevy noted the five men spent a collective 80 years in prison.
“The boys were 14 at the time; 14 and 16. They managed to get the boys to implicate each other, and in some cases confess to a crime they didn’t commit,” Loevy said.
Barr, Harden, and Taylor had spent nearly two decades in prison before they were cleared and released in 2011. Veal and Sharp served about 10 years in prison, and completed their sentences before they were cleared.
All five sued Dixmoor Police and Illinois State Police officers in 2012. Their attorneys claimed police coerced false confessions from three of the “Dixmoor 5,” leading to convictions for all five. Three were only 14 and two were 16 when they were found guilty.
Michael Oppenheimer said the $40 million settlement with Illinois State Police is a substantial step, but not the final one. The five haven’t reached a settlement agreement with the Village of Dixmoor, which also is a defendant in their lawsuit. Regardless of what money they might get from Dixmoor, Oppenheimer said it won’t be enough.
“No amount of money — no matter how great — can bring justice,” he said.
The attorneys will get 30 percent of the $40 million settlement.
In May, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart opened a new investigation into Cateresa’s rape and murder, though no charges have yet been filed. Authorities have yet to publicly identify the man whose DNA has been tied to the case, though he reportedly is in prison already on other charges.