A man who was sent to prison as a 14-year-old for a fatal arson is suing the City of Chicago, saying police officers falsified the evidence that kept him behind bars for 24 years before the Illinois Appellate Court set him free last spring.
Adam Gray, now 39, also accused the police of coercing his false confession and extracting false statements from witnesses.
“What’s on my mind is trying to draw attention to the lack of accountability with Chicago cops,” Gray said at a press conference Thursday . “They can get away with everything just short of murder, and in some cases murder, and nothing ever happens to them.”
A former fire marshal and a former assistant state’s attorney — who is now a Cook County judge — are also named in the suit, along with several former police officers, some of whom are now deceased. A spokesman for the city’s Law Department declined to comment.
Gray was in eighth grade when he was arrested hours after a March 1993 apartment fire in Brighton Park that killed two people. Detectives interrogated him for seven hours without a lawyer, prevented him from seeing his mother and eventually coerced a confession out of him, according to the suit.
“I didn’t feel like I had anything to hide,” Gray said. “But they made it clear to me that it was just going to get worse for me if I didn’t start changing my answers.”
At trial, prosecutors argued Gray set the fire because he had been jilted by a girl who lived in the building, and who escaped the blaze.
Gray was convicted of arson and murder in 1996, and sentenced to life without parole.
“He was riding bikes. He was playing Nintendo,” Gray’s attorney Jon Loevy said. “He was doing the things that other little kids do… [Fourteen-year-old boys] don’t stand a chance against sophisticated homicide detectives, who are intent on manipulating the truth.”
In addition to the confession, authorities “fabricated” evidence in the form of a milk jug they claimed Gray had filled with gasoline to spread the flames, according to the suit.
And the supposed chemical accelerants detected at the fire scene — evidence that has been debunked in the years since the fire as “junk science,” Loevy said — were actually common wood treatment products. The cause of the fire remains undetermined, Loevy said.
Attorneys with the firm Jenner & Block took up Gray’s case pro bono, and after a prolonged legal battle, charges were dropped against him in May 2017, his conviction was vacated and he later was exonerated.
“What has been taken from him is almost incomprehensible,” Loevy said.
Gray’s 11-count federal civil rights suit seeks an unspecified amount in damages. But he said one legal action is “not enough” for the officers who landed him behind bars for more than two decades.
“They need to be prosecuted,” Gray said. They need to be brought to justice and, if anything, get a more harsh sentence than your average citizen, because they’re supposed to be the good guys.”