Jury awards $15 million to Black man wrongly imprisoned for murder

By Noble Johns

-- History is replete with examples of the injustice in America’s criminal justice system against Black men. Millions of Black men have been sent to prison for nothing in this country, and those who have committed crimes are victims themselves of a society that has spent over a hundred years oppressing its own citizens for no reason but for their race.

Recently, a federal court jury awarded $15 million to a Black man sentenced to life in prison for a murder for which he was later pardoned. The damages in the civil lawsuit represent $1 million for each year James Newsome was jailed for the 1979 slaying of a grocery store owner during a holdup.

"They say that this is life-changing money -- it could be," Newsome, 46, said as he left court with his attorneys. But he said his ordeal in prison was so terrible that he "will never be made whole."

The verdict came after less than two hours of deliberations and followed Newsome's harrowing testimony of how he survived a knife attack, the arson of his cell and gang control of daily life behind the bars of state prison.

Over objections of city lawyers, jurors viewed a life-size replica of "Cell 213"--the 8-foot-by-12-foot cell at Stateville Correctional Center that Newsome said he was confined to 24 hours a day during lockdowns that lasted as long as three to four months at a time.

The same jury had found that Newsome was framed by two Chicago homicide detectives who coached eyewitnesses. One of the eyewitnesses, Anthony Rounds, became a key witness on behalf of Newsome. He testified that when he went to a police lineup he was told by officers: "Pick No.3," the position occupied by Newsome.

The same five-woman, three-man jury found that two retired Chicago police detectives, Edward McNally and John McCabe, rigged a police lineup in 1979, intentionally causing two eyewitnesses to the murder to misidentify Newsome as the killer.

Both detectives have denied coaching or manipulating witnesses.

Newsome's conviction was expunged in 1994 after another man's fingerprints were found at the shooting scene. The other man had been sent to death row in an unrelated case.

After Newsome's conviction in 1980, Cook County prosecutors sought the death penalty for him, but following 4 1/2 tense months of waiting to be sentenced, he was given natural life without parole.

"I was still sentenced to die in prison," Newsome, 46, a paralegal, told jurors. "The only way I was ever going to leave a prison was on a gurney."

Gov. Jim Edgar pardoned Newsome, saying he thought Newsome had nothing to do with the shooting.

Newsome's attorneys had asked for $50 million.

"I hope the city gets the message and we can stop the legal wrangling at some point," attorney Philip Beck told reporters, adding that he hoped the city would not appeal.

But Chicago Law Department spokeswoman Jenny Hoyle said the city probably would appeal. She said the two detectives, who are now retired, "conducted a very thorough investigation into the crime."

This country has spent most of its time framing innocent Black men, but when you compare all the crimes Black men have committed in the history of this country, it can’t be compared with the crimes of 911.

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