Convictions linked to former Chicago police sergeant Ronald Watts vacated

CHICAGO (WLS) -- A judge vacated the convictions of 12 people whom authorities say were framed by former Chicago police Sergeant Ronald Watts.

Since 2016, the Cook County State's Attorney's Office has moved to vacate a total of 94 tainted cases all involving the former sergeant.

The men who had tried to get attention for years allowed their attorney to speak for them on Tuesday.

"In all instances these people are entirely innocent of the crimes they were charged," said Josh Tepfer, attorney for the Exoneration Project. "They were forced through the system and forced to plead guilty in many cases because no one would believe this was going on. We all know now it's true. It's really a stain on the city that this was allowed to go on for as long as it has."

In court, Chief Judge LeRoy Martin vacated the convictions and sentences of 12 men - cases initiated by Watts. Watts has since been convicted in federal court for planting drugs and lying about evidence to make arrests. He was sentenced to 22 months.

Tuesday's cases are among those being reviewed by the states attorney's conviction integrity unit.

"When people do not believe they cannot trust law enforcement, when they see the actions of Sergeant Watts and his crew, they will tend to deal with their problems within their community without our assistance, and so it's important just as vigorously as we fight crimes in the present that we right the wrongs of the past," said Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx.

On the same day as the mass exoneration of the 12 men, James Gibson received his certificate of innocence. Gibson served 29 years in prison. He was among the men tortured by former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge. On Tuesday, he shared the toll his wrongful conviction had on his life and the life of his family.

"I lost everything. I lost my mother, my father, my brother, my son. Somebody else raised my kids. I can't get none of that back," Gibson said.

The 12 men will be back in court in March to work toward their certificates of innocence.

The state's attorney's integrity unit is continuing to review cases, and 96 other cases are waiting to be reviewed.
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