Nevest Coleman had never been arrested, until he landed in an interrogation room filled with detectives investigating the 1994 rape and murder of Antwinica Bridgeman.
Coleman, then 25, had discovered Bridgeman’s body in the basement of his mother’s apartment building, and detectives fixated on him as a suspect. For years, Coleman claimed he was punched, threatened, and eventually spoon-fed the bogus confession that was used to convict him.
On Thursday, two months after DNA evidence cleared him and he was released from prison, Coleman stood with his son and daughter in a West Loop law office, looking on as his lawyers announced a federal lawsuit against the city.
“I was sitting in prison 23 years, I was thinking I was never going to see my people again, never going to see my family,” said Coleman, whose parents both died while he was in prison.
“I lost a lot of people… a lot of years I can never get back.”
The same detectives who coerced Coleman’s confession were involved in other dubious cases, including the Englewood Four investigation, in which the defendants confessed, were exonerated by DNA evidence —and last month reached a $31 million settlement with the city.
The lawsuit names nearly a dozen CPD officers who were present when Coleman was interrogated or who signed off on bogus reports. Attorney Russell Ainsworth noted that several of them worked under former CPD commander Jon Burge, whose subordinates have been named in dozens of cases where suspects alleged they were tortured into confessions.
Authorities also should take a hard look at cases where other defendants have made similar claims of abuse at the hands of detectives named in the lawsuit, including Kenneth Boudreau, a detective who, in several cases, managed to wring confessions even out of men who later cleared by DNA evidence or proved to have been in jail when they allegedly committed crimes.
Ainsworth said Coleman is entitled to “whatever a jury thinks it’s worth” to compensate Coleman for his years behind bars and the stain to the former altar boy’s good name.
Coleman and a friend discovered Bridgeman’s body in the basement of the apartment building where Coleman’s mother lived, spotting the weeks-old body through a basement window when they went to investigate a foul odor. Police found Bridgeman, who had gone missing more than two weeks earlier, had been impaled with a pipe, and an autopsy showed she had suffocated on a piece of concrete that had been shoved in her mouth.
Coleman endured a 12-hour interrogation, during which he was punched by a detective and called a “lying-assed n—–“ when he denied any involvement in the killing.
Told he could go home if he confessed, Coleman was coached to say that two other men had carried out the murder while he acted as a lookout. Coleman gave a statement, then recanted as soon as his lawyer arrived, according to court records.
Coleman and co-defendant Darryl Fulton both gave confessions and were convicted of rape and murder, while a third suspect who did not confess was never charged.
In 2016, the state police examined Bridgeman’s clothes and underwear, and material on her fingernails in search of DNA. The results excluded Coleman and the two other suspects, and matched a man identified as a rapist in a law enforcement database. Ainsworth said Coleman’s legal team had not been told the identity of the DNA match, but said that the man was implicated in three rapes that took place after Bridgeman’s murder.
Contributing: Andy Grimm