Chicago Man Gets Record $25M for Wrongful Conviction

By Andrew Chow, Esq. on January 25, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The City of Chicago must pay $25 million to a man in what lawyers say is the largest-ever U.S. jury award in a wrongful-conviction case. But Thaddeus "T.J." Jimenez may soon be back in prison for a separate offense.

"Sometimes the criminal justice system makes a mistake," Jimenez's lawyer said after the record jury award, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. "In this case, we proved that's exactly what happened."

Jurors on Tuesday awarded $25 million to Jimenez, who was just 13 when he was arrested for a gang-related killing in 1993. Jimenez was convicted and spent 16 years in prison before the case against him fell apart.

Thaddeus Jimenez's wrongful conviction turned on a witness who later recanted, and a tape recording of an Indiana man who allegedly confessed to the crime, the Sun-Times reports. That man is now set to stand trial.

Jimenez's attorney said police "framed" his client -- "strong-arming" witnesses into implicating Jimenez, and ignoring the "real suspect" because they'd already built their case, the Sun-Times reports.

Prosecutors eventually realized the injustice. Jimenez was released from prison in 2009, and a judge signed a "certificate of innocence" that allowed Jimenez to sue the city.

Illinois is one of 27 states with laws that allow compensation for wrongful convictions, according to the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with the Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University in New York.

Illinois' law changed in 2008 to allow local courts to issue certificates of innocence. Before 2008, only the governor held that power, creating a huge backlog of wrongful-conviction claims, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Thaddeus Jimenez, now in his 30s, is still trying to get his life back on track after his wrongful conviction. But he may not remain free for long. Jimenez was convicted of drug possession in December, and could be sent back to prison for up to three years, the Sun-Times reports.

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