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Introducing ‘Motive’: a podcast from the Chicago Sun-Times and WBEZ

Hosted by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Frank Main, Motive tells the story of a wrongfully convicted teen turned self-appointed street gang leader.

Thaddeus “T.J.” Jimenez in police lineup photo at 13.

In 2014, I became captivated by the story of Thaddeus “T.J.” Jimenez. I’d heard the Chicago Police Department suspected he was firing guns out of luxury cars. They thought he was behind a spike in violence on the West Side of Chicago. Even the mayor was briefed about him.

That was especially interesting to me because T.J. was a big story when he was awarded $25 million in a wrongful-conviction lawsuit in 2012.

He had spent 16 years in prison for a murder he swore he didn’t commit. A judge freed him, he sued the city, and he persuaded a federal jury he should get more than $2 million in compensation for every one of the years he spent behind bars.

By 2014, though, it was becoming clear that this story wasn’t going to have a fairytale ending. I started documenting T.J.’s troubles with the law. And in May 2015, he did the unthinkable: He shot a man while his friend recorded everything on video.

T.J. is now back behind bars, serving a federal prison sentence for illegal gun possession. He’s also awaiting trial in Cook County circuit court for shooting that man.

This podcast is my attempt to understand it all — why T.J. was arrested for murder at 13, what he went through in prison and how his background might have guided his decisions after he became a multimillionaire.

Why did it all go so wrong?

And what does it mean for the rest of us?

“Motive” debuts Sept. 20 on WBEZ.org. Subscribe to the series on Apple Podcasts.