Man wrongly accused of murder freed after 20 years in prison

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Rodell Sanders spent 20 years in prison wrongly accused of murder. Wednesday was his first full day of freedom. (WLS)

Rodell Sanders spent 20 years in prison wrongly accused of murder. Wednesday was his first full day of freedom. While he was behind bars, he literally took the law into his own hands.

"In my case it's plain and simple. I was framed for a murder I did not commit," said Sanders.

Twenty years ago, Sanders went to prison for a murder in Chicago Heights. A man shot dead in a garage, a woman badly wounded. Police targeted Sanders as the shooter.

"This case is the embodiment of a shoddy police investigation," said Russell Ainsworth, Sanders' attorney.

Sanders and his lawyers have filed suit contending that Chicago Heights police detectives purposely doctored a line-up photo to manipulate a witness and used a paid snitch to win a conviction. The reason, they say, is that Sanders back then was a high-ranking gang member and putting him behind bars would cripple the gang and be a public relations plus. In prison, Sanders says he spent 10-12 hours every day, seven days a week learning the law.

"I just committed myself to the law. I didn't want to die I prison. I wanted to go back out there and make it to my children and may family," he said.

Because of his pro se effort and the help of attorneys who believed, Rodell Sanders is again a free man, back with a family he has known only from behind prison bars for two decades.

Sanders was reunited with family after a jury in his second re-trial Tuesday night found him not guilty of the 1993 murder.

"Like I tell him all the time, I can't even believe all the things he's done. He's a talker. Without doubt, yeah, it's unbelievable," said Lynette Booth, Sanders' daughter.

Mixed with the joy of freedom and family, there is also some fear at re-entering society. How do you start over? What do you do?

"I wanna work. I love law. I love the courtroom. I'd love to go on and be a paralegal or a lawyer or something like that. I'd like to work, spend time with family, get involved in the community," said Sanders.

Sanders will be back in a courtroom next Tuesday. A federal courtroom, as part of the civil suit he has filed against Chicago Heights and eight law enforcement officers involved in his case. That lawsuit, filed in January of last year, has been in a holding pattern pending the outcome of the criminal re-trial. Now that he's won an acquittal, the civil rights case starts anew.
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