Chicago man who spent 20 years in prison for double murder he didn’t commit could get $14M settlement
CHICAGO - Daniel Taylor can never recoup the more than 20 years he spent in prison for a double murder he couldn’t possibly have committed because he was a 17-year-old in police custody on an unrelated disorderly conduct charge at the time of the gruesome crime.
But if the City Council’s Finance Committee signs off on a $14.25 million settlement on the agenda for Thursday’s meeting, Taylor will soon be a wealthy man.
"Our client is happy for a measure of compensation. But it can’t begin to make Daniel whole for all he lost," Taylor’s attorneys, David Owens of Loevy & Loevy and Alexa Van Brunt of the MacArthur Justice Center, said in a statement to the Sun-Times.
The settlement stems from a lawsuit filed against the city on Taylor’s behalf in 2014.
It accused Chicago police officers of beating Taylor into a false confession and coercing false confessions from six other men, one of whom said Taylor "participated" in the double murder.
Chicago police were further accused of hiding evidence that would prove Taylor could not have shot and killed Jeffrey Lassiter and Sharon Haugabook in Lassiter’s North Side apartment on Nov. 16, 1992 — because police had Taylor locked up at the time.
Taylor was already in custody at 6:45 p.m. that day, and wasn’t bonded out until 10 p.m., more than an hour after Lassiter and Haugabook were killed.
The day the lawsuit was filed, Locke Bowman, executive director of the MacArthur Justice Center, called Taylor the victim of a "deliberate frame-up." It was "not an accident," "not a mistake" and "not a reasonable investigation gone wrong," Bowman said.
"Daniel Taylor was coerced — as a 17-year-old boy — into confessing to a crime that he could not have committed," Bowman said then.
"He was framed by the creation of evidence that purported to establish he wasn’t in police custody."
At trial, no fingerprints, DNA or other physical evidence tying the teenager to the crime were presented. In fact, the Chicago Police Department "withheld evidence" that may have exonerated Taylor, the lawsuit contends.
The verdict that deprived Taylor of two decades of freedom was won on the strength of the confession beaten out of him, "other coerced and false testimony" and on evidence "fabricated" by Chicago Police, the lawsuit contends.
In addition to the city of Chicago, the lawsuit identifies eight Chicago police officers as defendants: Anthony Villardita; Thomas Johnson; Brian Killacky; Terry O’Connor; Rick Abreu; Robert Delaney; Sean Glinski and Michael Berti.
The officers are accused of having "withheld facts from prosecutors," as well as "misrepresenting evidence to prosecutors" and failing to "investigate evidence that would have led to the real killer," according to the lawsuit.
"Unfortunately, the misconduct that caused Plaintiff’s wrongful conviction was not an isolated incident. To the contrary, the Chicago Police Department, including officers working within the Department "Area" where this investigation occurred, engaged in a pattern of unlawfully coercing confessions over a period of years, frequently preying on young African-American men in order to close unsolved cases through overzealous methods of interrogation."
The city was accused of a "pattern and practice of withholding exculpatory evidence" in CPD "street files from the courts, prosecutors and defendants, just as was done here."
"Although Plaintiff has won back his freedom, he will never regain the decades lost in his life. This lawsuit seeks redress for those injuries," the lawsuit states.
Taylor’s conviction was vacated in 2013. The state dropped the charges against him and he was released after spending more than 20 years in prison.
On Jan. 23, 2014, he was granted a certificate of innocence by the Cook County Circuit Court.
"I don’t have the words to explain what it feels like to get out a grown man, once going in as a child," Taylor once told reporters.
Prison life was so unbearable, Taylor said he tried to commit suicide.
"It’s unexplainable. … I have no words for that, period," he once said.
It’s not the first time allegations of police misconduct in that double murder have triggered a costly settlement.
Four years ago, the City Council signed off on a $10.5 million settlement to Lewis Gardner and Paul Phillips. Gardner was 15 and Phillips was 17 when arrested as Taylor’s co-defendants.
Like Taylor, both men were wrongfully convicted of the double murder.
Both were sentenced to 30 years in prison and served half that time before their convictions were overturned because the case against them hinged on confessions that turned out to be false.
In all, eight men were charged with the double murder, though only four were accused of going inside the apartment near Clarendon Park and committing the crime.
Gardner and Phillips allegedly stayed outside and served as lookouts.
The case fell apart when Taylor produced the records showing the hours he was in police custody.