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Our view: What price freedom in Illinois?

Updated: February 28, 2013 6:54AM



On July 6, Andre Davis was exonerated based on DNA test results after spending most of his life in prison for the rape and murder of a young girl. The Champaign man was incarcerated longer than anyone wrongfully convicted in Illinois history — 19 when arrested and 50 when set free.

Davis was the 42nd person in Illinois to be cleared of a conviction by DNA results since the testing became widely accepted in 1989. The 43rd was Nakita Ulmer, who was in the Will County Jail for 17 months while awaiting trial for a 2009 home invasion and sexual assault of an elderly woman in Joliet. A judge dismissed the case this month based on DNA evidence.

And 64 others in the state have had convictions overturned by evidence other than DNA during that period. What a sad record of justice delayed and freedom denied.

Davis and Ulmer are atypical, among only 16 of the 107 whose case was outside Cook County, which holds the dubious title as the wrongful conviction capital of the United States. About 14 percent of all convictions reversed via DNA testing in the nation have occurred in the county.

And 14 of the 19 overturned death row cases in Illinois are from Cook County, fabricated by disgraced Chicago police Cmdr. Jon Burge whose police thugs harassed and sometimes tortured suspects during the 1970s and ‘80s.

Those who were wrongfully convicted cannot count on cashing in to make up for their lost years behind bars. Civil rights lawsuits are difficult to win — you must prove that your conviction resulted from willful police or prosecutorial misconduct, not mere negligence.

Illinois law grants a sliding compensation scale up to $199,150 for those who have spent more than 14 years in prison. That’s at most about $15,000 a year, roughly equal to the minimum wage.

We like frugal government. But wrongly seizing a person’s life and taking away his freedom for years should be worth a lot more. A stolen life should cost more than a minimum-wage pay stub.



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