Pardoned Chicago man reaches $7.5M settlement with city of Elkhart, attorney says
ELKHART, Ind. - A married Chicago father of three was wrongfully convicted in the state of Indiana in 1996.
"My faith in God kept me going," said Keith Cooper.
Cooper thought his life was history. He was sentenced to 40 years for robbery and attempted murder. He was locked up in maximum security prison for more than seven years for a crime he didn't commit.
On Wednesday, Cooper made Indiana state history.
"Seven and a half, that's a hell of a justice," said Cooper.
Cooper was pardoned years ago by Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb. However, he filed a lawsuit in 2019 seeking civil damages for the time he was incarcerated.
On May 4, 2022, Cooper received $7.5-millon, nearly $1-million for every year he was behind bars. That’s the most money paid out in a wrongful conviction case.
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Cooper had no prior criminal record, and a hat left by the shooter at seen did not show Cooper's DNA. Even with the evidence, he was still convicted.
But still, he was hit with a charge for robbery and attempted murder, sentenced to 40 years.
"Keith was walking down the street carrying some groceries to his wife and children," said John Loevy, Cooper’s attorney and an attorney with Loevy & Loevy. "Police were looking for a tall Black guy that committed a crime and Keith was a tall black guy and that was all it took. Witnesses came forward, said police told them who to pick."
The week that Cooper filed his lawsuit back in 2019 against the City of Elkhart, Indiana and the lead detective on his case, Steve Rezutko, the disgraced former detective committed suicide.
"He was a horrible man, if you don't plead guilty to this case I have another case for you. He gave me that case, but he took the coward way out by killing himself," said Cooper.
Lawyers for Cooper say his case unraveled a pattern of systemic police and prosecutorial misconduct.
"He also unraveled how so many innocent men and women in Elkhart were wrongfully convicted and continued to be wrongfully convicted of crimes they didn't commit," said Elliott Slosar, attorney with Loevy & Loevy.
The mayor of Elkhart, Rod Roberson, released the following statement:
"The City of Elkhart, its insurance carriers, and attorneys representing the city have been negotiating with Mr. Keith Cooper and his legal team. A settlement has been reached and the insurance carriers have agreed to pay Mr. Cooper $7.5 million bringing this litigation to a close.
Keith Cooper’s conviction has been overturned, the prosecutor from the original 1997 trial joined the victims in this case calling for Cooper’s exoneration, and the governor of Indiana granted Mr. Cooper a pardon. We hope that this settlement brings to a conclusion the obvious injustice that has been rendered to Mr. Cooper.
The current administration and current leadership at the Elkhart Police Department have set upon a path of accountability in the hopes that this kind of case will never occur again. For the past two years, the Roberson administration and the police department have been committed to positive relationship-building with the Elkhart community.
On behalf of the entire City of Elkhart to Mr. Cooper and his family, we regret the suffering you have experienced. We are hopeful that this settlement will bring Mr. Cooper closure and peace to move forward with his life."