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‘I’ll never get that time back’: After 16 years in prison, two men sue cops, prosecutors in 2003 murder case

The federal lawsuits were filed Wednesday on behalf of Anthony Mitchell and John Fulton, who said they were forced to confess to murdering Christopher Collazo.

Anthony Mitchell speaks during a press conference to announce two lawsuits against 17 current and former Chicago Police Department and Cook County state’s attorney’s office employees.
Anthony Mitchell speaks during a press conference to announce two lawsuits against 17 current and former Chicago Police Department and Cook County state’s attorney’s office employees.
Sam Charles/Sun-Times

Two men convicted and then cleared in a grisly 2003 murder have filed federal lawsuits against the city, prosecutors and police officers, alleging that they were railroaded into giving false confessions that put them both behind bars for more than 15 years.

The lawsuits were filed Wednesday on behalf of Anthony Mitchell and John Fulton, who were initially convicted in the murder of Christopher Collazo. Seventeen current and former employees of the Chicago Police Department and Cook County state’s attorney’s office, as well as the city and county, were named as defendants.

“I’ll never get those years back, but I pray I get justice,” Mitchell said at a news conference Wednesday. “I’ll never get that time back.”

Mitchell and Fulton, who were 17 and 18 years old at the time of their arrests in 2003, were each sentenced to 31 years in prison following their 2006 convictions. No physical evidence or eyewitnesses linked either man to the crime. Judge Lawrence Flood, last year, vacated their convictions and the state’s attorney’s office subsequently dropped all charges.

“In 2003, John and Anthony were teenagers with bright futures ahead of them when they had their lives destroyed as a result of misconduct committed by the police and prosecutors named in these lawsuits,” said Sam Heppell, an attorney for the two men.

“They were wrongfully convicted and imprisoned for a murder they did not commit because the defendants in these lawsuits fabricated false evidence, withheld exculpatory evidence and used an array of coercive tactics to compel them to falsely confess to the murder of Christopher Collazo.”

Around 3 a.m. March 10, 2003, a man called 911 to report a fire in the alley of the 5200 block of South Peoria Street. Collazo’s partially burned remains were soon found in the Back of the Yards alley. His wrists, ankles and mouth were bound with duct tape. The man who called 911 told police that he saw two men near the fire, but he could not get a good look at their faces.

About a month earlier, Fulton tried to buy a gun from Collazo. Instead of completing the deal, Collazo and another member of the Maniac Latin Disciples robbed Fulton at gunpoint, the suit states. That was the last time Fulton and Collazo crossed paths.

The suit states that a mutual friend of Fulton and Collazo brokered the phony gun sale, though the friend initially “denied knowing of any connection between that robbery and Collazo’s murder a month later.”

Police re-interviewed the mutual friend and “through threats and intimidation, and by feeding her a false narrative that they had concocted, Defendants coerced [the mutual friend] into falsely implicating [Fulton] in Collazo’s murder,” the suit states.

Fulton was questioned by detectives for several days, though he initially refused to give a false confession and told police that, at the time of the murder, he was at the University of Chicago Medical Center with his fiancée and then at his home in Bronzeville, the suit alleges.

Fulton eventually gave a false confession to police that implicated himself, Mitchell and a third person, the suit states. Murder charges were brought against all three, though they were later dropped against the third person after a judge ruled that his confession had been coerced.

Representatives for the state’s attorney’s office and the city declined to comment on the lawsuits.