2 men sue Chicago police after being exonerated in murder

Photo: GETTY

Two men who were arrested as teenagers and spent nearly half their lives behind bars after being wrongfully convicted of murder have sued Chicago police and Cook County prosecutors for malicious prosecution, lawyers for the men announced Wednesday.

John Fulton and Anthony Mitchell were 17 and 18 years old at the time of their arrests in 2003 for the murder of Christopher Collazo. Both were sentenced to 31 years in prison following their 2006 convictions, even though no physical evidence or eyewitnesses linked either man to the crime.

Cook County Circuit Judge Lawrence Flood last year vacated their convictions and the Cook County state’s attorney’s office subsequently dropped all charges. The federal lawsuit filed by Fulton and Mitchell accuses police of manipulating photo evidence, abuse and fabrication of their alleged confession. It seeks damages for civil rights violations and malicious prosecution.

“I still don’t feel free. I still feel like I’m trapped inside of an ice cube, stuck in time. Sometimes I feel like the 18-year-old kid that got locked up, that was always told to tell the truth. The truth didn’t set me free,” Fulton said Wednesday. “It’s a nightmare every day of my life.”

The lawsuit concedes that before the murder, Fulton tried to buy a gun from Collazo, an alleged gang member, who instead of completing the deal robbed Fulton.

Collazo’s body was discovered bound with duct tape and partially burned in an alley in Chicago’s Back of the Yards neighborhood.

Police allegedly pressured a 17-year-old girl to falsely implicate Fulton, Mitchell and a third person in the murder, according to lawyers. Fulton was at a hospital with his girlfriend and then at their apartment — which was monitored by security cameras — at the time of the crime.

Prosecutors got around Fulton’s alibi by using misleading photos to make it appear there was an un-monitored back door in his apartment complex

The lawsuit contends Fulton’s alibi also clears Mitchell, since prosecutors alleged Fulton was the instigator of the attack and recruited Mitchell for help.

But after “false promises of leniency, threats and physical violence,” Fulton, Mitchell and a third person each gave multiple false confessions, the lawsuit alleges. Charges against the third person were later dropped after a judge ruled his confession had been coerced.

Spokesmen for Chicago police and the Cook County state’s attorney’s office declined to comment on the lawsuit.