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Jury awards $7.56M to man whose conviction for 1980 Back of the Yards murder was overturned

Cathy Trunko had been about to enter Daley College in hopes of becoming an elementary school teacher when she was found dead in the 4900 block of South Paulina Street in January 1980.

Dirksen Federal Courthouse
Sun-Times file

A federal jury awarded $7.56 million in damages Tuesday to a man who spent nearly three decades in prison for a brutal 1980 Back-of-the-Yards murder only to have his conviction overturned.

The civil trial revolving around Daniel Andersen’s conviction for the murder of 20-year-old Cathy Trunko lasted more than three weeks at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse and included testimony from Trunko’s brother.

In the end, jurors awarded Andersen $7.55 million in compensatory damages in Andersen’s lawsuit against a group of current and former Chicago police officers. They assessed another $10,000 in punitive damages against onetime Chicago homicide Det. James Higgins, finding that Higgins violated Andersen’s right against compelled self-incrimination.

Trunko had been about to enter Daley College in hopes of becoming an elementary school teacher when she was found dead in the 4900 block of South Paulina Street in January 1980, according to records and the Chicago Sun-Times.

She had been stabbed three times in her chest.

Her brother, Carl Trunko, testified last week about the few memories that remain of his sister. He said she liked Donny Osmond and once wrote a poem about dandelions — weeds that become beautiful when gathered by children for their mother. Carl Trunko also remembered her purple room, telling jurors “she liked the color purple.”

He testified wearing a purple shirt and a purple-striped tie.

A jury convicted Andersen of Trunko’s murder and attempted rape in March 1982. Prosecutors said Andersen admitted killing Trunko after he tried, unsuccessfully, to force her to have sex with him. Authorities pointed to a bloody knife found a few blocks from Trunko’s body. It had been covered in Type A blood, which matched Trunko’s blood type.

The judge sentenced Andersen to 55 years behind bars, finding he had committed a “senseless” act that warranted an extended prison sentence.

Andersen, who was 19 at the time of Trunko’s murder, didn’t walk free until 2007. Eight years later, a Cook County judge vacated Andersen’s conviction based on DNA test results. Prosecutors formally dropped the charges, and Andersen secured a certificate of innocence in December 2015.

The federal lawsuit followed in February 2016. Andersen’s lawyers pointed to the DNA testing, saying it eliminated any link between Trunko, Andersen and the bloody knife found near Trunko’s body. They also claimed his confession had been false and coerced, following a police interrogation that lasted 16 hours while he was drunk, sleep deprived and on prescription medication.

“The entire criminal case was a lie,” Jonathan Loevy, one of Andersen’s attorneys, said during closing arguments Monday.

Timothy Scahill, a lawyer representing the officers, vehemently denied in his own argument that Trunko and Andersen had been completely excluded from the blade, telling jurors there were “whispers of Cathy Trunko from the grave on that knife.”

Scahill said the jurors in 1982 “absolutely, 100 percent came to the right outcome, and nothing that’s happened in this case has changed that.”