CHICAGO (CBS) — Prosecutors dropped charges Monday against 10 more men allegedly framed by disgraced former Chicago Police Sgt. Ronald Watts, the fourth such mass exoneration linked to Watts and his team.
Four more men with cases linked to the corrupt former cop will be exonerated later this week.
Attorneys for the 14 men said they were framed by Watts and members of his tactical team. Some of the men spent years in prison on drug charges.
At a hearing Monday morning, 10 men were exonerated when Cook County prosecutors asked a judge to dismiss their charges, following an ongoing review of cases linked to Watts.
The 10 men cleared on Monday walked out of court celebrating, looking forward to new beginnings, and starting a new chapter in their lives. They said it’s been a long journey after being victimized by Watts and his team while visiting friends or family at the Ida B. Wells Homes.
Attorneys for The Exoneration Project said, for more than a decade, Watts and officers under his command planted evidence and fabricated charges, and even organized their own drug and gun trade.
Kim Wilbourn said he’s still haunted by what happened to him years ago.
“To this day, I am not physically capable to go to sleep right. I can’t eat the same anymore. The way I think is messed up. I can’t get a job. I’m physically capable, but what this man did to me destroyed any capability of me becoming something,” he said.
Monday’s mass exoneration was the fourth involving cases tied to Watts in the last 15 months.
Last November, seven people who were framed on drug charges were exonerated when prosecutors agreed to dismiss their cases. Two months before that, 18 other men arrested by Watts and his team were cleared; and in November 2017, another 15 men were cleared of drug convictions tied to Watts.
Another hearing on four cases tied to Watts has been scheduled for Wednesday.
Defense attorneys said, once prosecutors officially dismiss the charges in the latest round of cases on Monday and Wednesday, a total of 63 people will have been exonerated of 82 combined charges tied to Watts and his team.
Attorneys believe there are dozens more people with credible claims waiting to have their cases reviewed.
Watts pleaded guilty in 2013 to stealing from a homeless man who posed as a drug dealer as part of an undercover FBI sting. He admitted to routinely extorting money from drug dealers, and was sentenced to 22 months in prison.
Prosecutors have said Watts and the officers under his command routinely planted evidence and fabricated charges in order to further their own gun and drug trade.
Watts and his officers were involved in at least 500 convictions. Attorneys with the Exoneration Project said they expect many more cases ultimately will be tossed out.