From [NPR] Last week in Chicago, Judge Leroy Martin threw out the convictions of 15 Black men in what defense attorneys call a landmark decision and the "first mass exoneration" in Cook County. The men, who all served prison terms, claim they were framed by former Chicago Police Sgt. Ronald Watts and officers under his command. One of the men, Leonard Gipson, spent four years in prison and says Watts would demand money and then drugs on a person and arrest them if he was not paid.
Four years ago, Watts was convicted of extorting money from a drug dealer who turned out to be an FBI informant. Prosecutors in the Cook County State's Attorney office said after reviewing the cases of the 15 men, the office didn't have confidence in the police reports and testimony. They asked the court to throw those cases out and said they are looking into several more that are tied to Watts' command.
Defense attorneys with the University of Chicago's Exoneration Project filed a petition last spring asking for the cases to be overturned. Attorney Joshua Tepfer said it's "extraordinarily powerful" to have prosecutors take that step. He added that Watts was involved in nearly 1,000 cases and nearly 500 convictions which are now suspect.
Thursday's hearing for the 15 defendants came after the release earlier this week of another man in a separate case. Chicagoan Arthur Brown had spent decades in prison for crimes he said he did not commit. The Cook County State's Attorney dropped the charges against him saying an investigation showed there were deep concerns about the fairness of Brown's conviction on murder and arson charges.
Reached by phone Wednesday, Joshua Tepfer, the lead attorney for the 15 men, praised the “unprecedented” action by Foxx’s office but said the cases were “the tip of the iceberg” when it comes to cases tainted by Watts.
“It’s a remarkable effort by the state’s attorney’s office to recognize the significance of this horrendous injustice and to do their part to start correcting it,” Tepfer said. “But there are still more than 400 convictions (by Watts’ team) that are unaccounted for … it’s no doubt the tip of the iceberg.” [MORE]