City to pay $7.25 million settlement to man wrongfully convicted of deadly arson

The Cook County Board will be asked to sign off on an identical $7.25 million settlement to compensate Arthur Brown for alleged prosecutorial misconduct, according to his attorney.

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Arthur Brown on the night of his release in 2017, after spending nearly 30 years locked up for a fatal arson he didn’t commit.

Arthur Brown is pictured on the night of his prison release in 2017. He spent nearly 30 years locked up for a 1988 fatal arson he didn’t commit.

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Chicago taxpayers will spend $7.25 million to compensate a man who spent nearly 30 years in prison for an arson fire he did not set after being choked into confessing to the double murder.

Arthur Brown finally walked out of prison in November 2017 at age 66 after a judge overturned his double-murder conviction.

Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx then agreed to drop the case “in the interest of justice,” citing “significant evidentiary issues that raised deep concerns about the fairness of Mr. Brown’s conviction.”

At the time of his arrest, Brown was a 37-year-old contractor living with his mother and running a business started by his late father. He had never been convicted of a crime.

The May 1988 fire started at a video store on 63rd Street between South Vernon Avenue and King Drive and spread to a Thai restaurant next door, killing two people sleeping inside.

According to Brown’s attorney Ronald Safer, Brown had done work in that same block and was summoned in the middle of the night to secure one of the storefront doors after a break-in.

The next day, he got a call from Chicago police officers who told him the video store had burned down. Brown said he had been there to repair the door but had nothing to do with setting a fire, nor did he know anything about the gas can and towel found at the scene or the white Ford Bronco parked nearby.

He was arrested anyway, placed in a hot, windowless interrogation room and chained to a wall for five hours, Safer said.

He signed a confession written for him by three detectives — a confession with no motive and no forensic or physical evidence to support it — and did so only after being beaten into submission, Safer said.

The three detectives — identified as Joseph Campbell, David Kutz and Joseph Fine — are all deceased.

“A detective choked him until he lost consciousness. And then, the next detective came back … and said, ‘You’ve got this other detective really worked up. It’s not gonna end well for you unless you sign a confession.’ So, he said, ‘OK.’ He just wanted to get out of that room and get to somebody who would listen,” Safer said Monday.

“When they arraigned him and said they were gonna seek the death penalty, he fainted in court,” said Safer.

Brown was convicted later that year. But 10 years later, a judge granted him a second trial after another man — serving a life sentence for numerous armed robberies — testified that he burned down the video store in retaliation for a debt Brown owed him.

Even so, the second trial ended in 2008 with the same verdict: guilty.

During that second trial, Cook County prosecutors maintained Brown told police where to find the gas can used in the arson — though detectives testifying during the first trial had contradicted that point.

Citing the gas can discrepancy, as well as alibi witnesses for Brown who were not chased down by his public defenders, Judge Joseph Claps granted Brown a third trial in October 2017. Only then did the state’s attorney office decline to pursue it.

At the time, Safer hailed it as a “culture change” for the state’s attorney’s office.

The $7.25 million settlement is on the agenda for Wednesday’s meeting of the City Council’s Finance Committee.

The Cook County Board will be asked to sign off on an identical $7.25 million settlement to compensate Brown for the alleged prosecutorial misconduct, Safer said.

The combined $14.5 million is well below Brown’s original demand of $60 million.

“He spent 30 years away from everything that he loved. … He’s away from his daughters, his family, his life. Like on an island. ... Can’t have any of the joys of life. Can’t wipe his daughters’ eyes when they cry. Can’t help them with their homework. Can’t help his mother, who he moved in with when his father passed away. ... She died. He couldn’t be there to help her when she was sick. Couldn’t be there to mourn with his family,” Safer said.

“How much would somebody have to pay you for a year of that, to be isolated from everything you love? $2 million? $5 million? ... But he wasn’t on an island. He was in ... a dungeon with the most violent criminals.”


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