Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Crooked Chicago: Convicted as a teen, man freed after 16 years in prison

Chicago police try and convict people in their own minds first so evidence be damned

Arrested at 13 for a murder he didn't commit, Thaddeus Jimenez spent more than 16 years in jail before his conviction was tossed out and the man originally fingered for the crime was arrested. Jimenez is believed to be the youngest person convicted of a crime who has been exonerated in the United States.

He was tried as an adult and sentenced to 45 years in jail -- despite the fact that an alleged accomplice in the murder insisted that another teen been the shooter and that police were provided with a tape in which that teen confessed.

According to news reports, prosecutors have charged Juan Carlos Torres, mpw 30, with the murder, and have filed papers for his extradition from Indiana, where he now resides.

Meanwhile, Jimenez, also 30, who went to prison barely in his teens, returned to his mother's arms Friday a grown man. "Oh my God I can't believe it. I can't believe he's here," Victoria Jimenez sobbed as she wrapped her arms around her son. Jimenez clutched a piece of paper as he walked up to a podium in Chicago Monday to thank his family and his lawyers for working so hard to get him free.

"You'll have to excuse me if I fumble some of my words. I'm a little bit nervous," he told reporters. "I'm happy to be alive today," he said as his mother wiped tears from her eyes and clutched his sister's hand. "There are many more innocent men, women and children still in prison today. I hope my case can be studied and used to prevent other defendants -- especially juveniles -- from having to endure what I had to endure."

Many high-profile exonerations --some which have prompted several US states to suspend the death penalty -- have been gained through genetic testing of old evidence.

But in Jimenez's case, freedom was won when the local prosecutors agreed to reopen the case, even after a judge dismissed a petition to for a retrial when two witnesses who had initially testified against him recanted. Recantations are often dismissed by judges unwilling to reopen a case, said Steven Drizin, who worked for years to free Jimenez and is director of the Wrongful Conviction Center at Northwestern University.

"Our system is fraught with errors," Drizin told AFP. "The real question is what happens when errors are brought to the attention of those able to right a wrong. "In this case the prosecution stepped up to the plate, but there are many other cases where that doesn't happen."

The case highlights problems with charging teens as adults and relying upon the testimony of children who are easily intimidated "into saying just about anything, Drizen said. "The case was built largely on the testimony of a terrified 14-year-old boy who the police woke up in the middle of the night and took down to the station without a parent and interrogated him until he changed his story," he said.

Original report here

(And don't forget your ration of Wicked Thoughts for today)

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