Dixmoor 5 attorneys speak after $40M settlement

DIXMOOR, Ill. (WLS) -- It's believed to be the largest settlement for a wrongful conviction in Illinois history.

The $40 million settlement will go to five men who spent years behind bars for a crime they did not commit. The men are known as the Dixmoor 5.

All were teenagers when they were convicted of the 1991 rape and murder of a 14-year-old girl from Dixmoor.

There have been other multi-million dollar wrongful conviction settlements, but this one is believed to the largest group payout ever in Illinois. It goes to five men who chose not to speak publicly about the settlement. Their lawyers did it for them, saying the Dixmoor 5 were pursued by police years ago because they were easy targets.

It all began with the 1991 rape and murder of Cateresa Matthews in Dixmoor.

"I think somebody just up and snatched her," said Jonathan Barr in November of 1992.

Barr, his brother and three others were later arrested, convicted and sent to prison for a murder they did not commit.

"The boys were 14 and 16. They managed to get the boys to implicate each other in and some cases confess to a crime they didn't commit," said Jon Loevy, attorney for James Harden.

The five men - now in their 30s - were ultimately freed after DNA evidence made clear they didn't do it. Today their attorneys announced that the state will pay the Dixmoor 5 $40 million an amount so large it required a special appropriation from the state's general fund.

"No amount of money - no matter how great - can bring justice to these young men," said Michael Oppenheimer, attorney for Shianne Sharp.

Their attorneys say the Dixmoor five have struggled to find jobs and readjust to life after a collective 80 years in prison. Twenty-two years ago, Dixmoor and state police insisted they'd arrested the right people.

"It's a shame that the youth have very little remorse with the loss of life," Lt. Wilson Pierce, Ill. State Police, said in November of 1992.

State police who led the murder investigation admit no wrongdoing in the settlement. The legal battle with Dixmoor continues. This case is the latest in a continuing series of high-payout wrongful convictions built on coerced confessions.

"What Cooperstown is to baseball, Chicago and Cook County have been to false confessions. It is not the hall of fame. It is the hall of shame," said Peter Neufeld, attorney for Jonathan Barr.

The Cook County Sheriff's Department and Dixmoor police - under different leadership - recently re-opened the Cateresa Matthews murder investigation. Their suspect is a now released, convicted sex offender who's linked to the murder by DNA.
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