In another story that shows our criminal justice system needs reform, two men who have been in prison for 23 years for rape and murder have been released after DNA determined they were wrongfully convicted.
Antwinica Bridgeman disappeared in 1994 after her 20th birthday. Two weeks after her disappearance, Nevest Coleman found her body in the abandoned basement of the building where members of Coleman’s family lived. His mother called the police, who eventually arrested and charged 25-year-old Nevest Coleman and 26-year-old Darryl Fulton with Bridgeman’s rape and murder.
The two men confessed to the crimes and were sentenced to life in prison without parole.
However, according to the Chicago Tribune, their confessions were coerced and they immediately recanted. The Tribune reported that Coleman testified during a pretrial hearing that he had been called a “lying-a–ed n——” and struck in the face twice by detectives, while Fulton was shown what police told him was Coleman’s statement, urged to confess, and told by a detective, “I should take you somewhere and put a bullet in your brain.”
The Tribune further reported that records show the Chicago police detectives “had a history of misconduct and allegations of coerced false statements,” court records and police reports show that there was no evidence actually linking Coleman and Fulton to the murder, and Coleman had no prior criminal history.
Last year, DNA testing on DNA found under the victim’s fingernails and in her underwear did not match either of the men. Instead, according to prosecutors, “semen from the underwear matched someone else linked to at least three assaults.”
And now, after 23 years in prison for a crime neither of them committed, they have been freed.
Coleman, who had worked for the White Sox groundskeeping crew in 1994, returned to his old job, now 48. Groundskeeper Roger “The Sodfather” Bossard told him, “I saved your spot for you. I knew you’d be back,” while the White Sox released a statement saying the team was “grateful” that “justice has been carried out” and is “looking forward to having Nevest back on Opening Day at home in our ballpark.”
Sadly, instead of watching the White Sox win the 2005 World Series in person and from the sidelines, Coleman sat in a prison cell. And during the 23 years that the two men were wrongfully in prison, both of Coleman’s parents passed away. “I lost my mother. My father. Aunties, grandmas. I lost a lot of people.”
Both Fulton and Coleman are filing lawsuits against the city, among others. Coleman’s attorney Russell Ainsworth did not disclose the amount that Coleman is seeking but did say, “Whatever a jury thinks it’s worth to be taken as an innocent man, placed in maximum security prison for 23 years, ripped from your family, being in prison while your parents die, and then to be brought out to society at 48 years old with no work history, no retirement savings, with no ability to live in our digital age.”
Tragically, Coleman and Fulton weren’t the only innocent people sitting in prison, and they won’t be the last. As I wrote in this piece about how the death penalty should be abolished, it’s estimated that 4% of people on death row have been wrongfully convicted. And there are multiple stories about innocent people being freed after losing decades of their lives in a prison cell.
- This Tennessee man was jailed for more than 31 years for a crime he did not commit and is set to receive $1 million in compensation.
- This Bronx man spent 20 years in prison before his murder conviction was vacated.
- This Detroit man spent 45 years in prison before his murder conviction was thrown out.
- The Chicago Tribune reported today about this Chicago man — who was a lawful permanent resident whose status was revoked when he was convicted — who was freed after two decades but now has been taken into custody by federal immigration authorities and may be deported.
“I saved your spot for you!” Man freed from prison after 23 years for a crime he didn’t commit is welcomed back to his job with the Chicago White Sox with open arms. https://t.co/7HOW3KcISu pic.twitter.com/qqDuzZkR07
— ABC News (@ABC) March 27, 2018
Despite the warm welcome back from the White Sox, this isn’t as joyous of an occasion as it appears, considering Coleman has lost 23 years of his life and time spent with family members. We call our process “the criminal justice system.” Is this the best justice we can offer?
The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent those of any other individual or entity. Follow Sarah on Twitter: @sarahmquinlan.