Jury: Wrongfully convicted ex-El Rukn member was denied fair trial

Written By BY KIM JANSSEN Federal Courts Reporter Posted: 04/29/2014, 11:36am

A federal jury on Tuesday rejected a wrongfully convicted former Death Row resident’s claims that he was framed as a result of Chicago Police policy.

But former El Rukn gang member Nathson Fields was denied a fair trial by a single Chicago cop, who withheld or fabricated evidence, the jury ruled.

The split verdict means Fields could still receive a substantial payout, but it comes as a blow to other wrongfully convicted former inmates who hoped Fields’ case would set a precedent about the policies and practices of the Chicago Police Department.

Convicted in 1986 of a double murder, Fields, now 60, spent 18 years behind bars — 12 of them on Death Row — before he was finally cleared at a retrial in 2009.

But it wasn’t until after he was cleared that a long-missing police file connected to his case was “discovered,” buried in an old filing cabinet in the basement of a South Side police station.

Police and prosecutors for years denied that the file existed, but Fields’ lawyers claimed it was deliberately hidden because it contained evidence that might have cleared Fields far sooner.

Chicago Police for decades had a policy of hiding detectives’ “street files” of notes from defendants, Fields’ attorneys claimed. Fields’ “street file” was found in a filing cabinet with unsolved cases dating back as far as 1944, they said.

Though jurors rejected Fields’ claims against the city, two cops and a prosecutor, they found that one cop, David O’Callaghan, did violate Fields’ right to due process by withholding or fabricating evidence.

Trial testimony suggested that police backdated statements and may have doctored lineups in an attempt to convict Fields.

Jurors must now hear two days of further evidence before deciding how much Fields should be awarded in damages.

Testifying Tuesday afternoon in a bid to win a big payout, Fields told them about his nightmarish life on Death Row, where he said he was treated “like an animal.”

Email: kjanssen@suntimes.com

Twitter: @kimjnews

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