A federal jury on Friday awarded more than $25 million to a man who sued the city of Chicago and two police detectives after being wrongfully convicted of murder and spending nearly 23 years in jail.
Eddie Bolden was freed from prison in 2016, two years after an appellate court found his trial attorney was ineffective. The Cook County State’s Attorney’s office dropped the case rather than put Bolden on trial again and he was granted a certificate of innocence, allowing him to receive state payment for his time in prison.
But attorneys for the city and detectives argued during the federal trial that Bolden’s criminal trial was fair and that he’s guilty of the 1994 murders.
A spokesperson said Chicago’s Law Department “is reviewing the verdict and is assessing its legal options.”
Jurors ordered the city to pay $25 million in compensatory damages, and the two surviving police detectives to pay $100,000 in punitive damages.
Bolden’s total award of $25.2 million tops the $25 million a jury awarded Northwest Sider Thaddeus Jimenez in 2012, which at the time was one of the largest awards in a wrongful conviction case in U.S. history.
Bolden’s lawsuit alleged that he was framed in the South Side killings of 24-year-old Derrick Frazier and 23-year-old Irving Clayton. Bolden’s attorney, Ron Safer, told jurors that police had no evidence that he was involved in the drug deal that led to the killings.
Safer argued that Bolden was the only man put in a police lineup who matched the physical description a witness provided, and that detectives ignored other key evidence.
“I think the jury recognized that he was victimized by a system that unfortunately has victimized people for too long, and they want it to stop,” Safer said after the decision.
Attorneys for the city and the detectives argued that Bolden had connections to a high-ranking gang member who had leverage over the witnesses claiming Bolden had an alibi, giving police good reason to distrust them.
Standing with his attorneys in the lobby of the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse after the jury’s decision, the 51-year-old Bolden teared up as he said he could barely find words to describe what he felt.
“Finally,” he said. “It’s all I can say right now.”