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Study: Wrongful Convictions Have Cost Illinois Taxpayers $214M

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CHICAGO (AP) - A new investigation has found that the wrongful convictions of 85 people have cost Illinois taxpayers $214 million.

The seven-month investigation by the Chicago-based Better Government Association and the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University’s law school found the bulk of the cost -$156 million - was settlements and judgments paid to those exonerated.

“While the BGA/CWC study revealed that almost all of the wrongful convictions were caused by multiple factors, the cause most commonly alleged was government error and misconduct by police, prosecutors, and forensic officials,” the groups said in a report published on the BGA website.

The groups predict the cost of wrongful convictions will rise because 16 civil lawsuits filed by exonerated individuals still need to be settled or go to trial, including some by men who allege torture by officers under a decorated former Chicago police lieutenant.

Former Lt. Jon Burge was convicted last year of federal perjury and obstruction of justice charges for lying about torture. Suspects for decades had alleged that Burge and his officers tortured them into confessing to crimes ranging from armed robbery to murder.

Burge reported to prison in March to begin serving a 4.5-year sentence. He was fired from the Chicago Police Department in 1993 over the alleged mistreatment of a suspect, but he never was criminally charged in that case or any involving alleged mistreatment.

The allegations of torture and coerced confessions eventually helped lead then-Republican Gov. George Ryan in 2000 to impose a moratorium on Illinois’ death penalty. Earlier this year, Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn signed legislation abolishing the death penalty in Illinois.

The BGA joint study included cases of murder, sexual assault, attempted murder and armed robbery where the person was exonerated after 1989 when DNA was used in Illinois. Exoneration included people acquitted after a retrial, and those who had their charges dismissed or withdrawn by prosecutors or who were given a gubernatorial pardon or court-issued certificate of innocence.

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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