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2 exonerated men file federal suits claiming Chicago police and Cook County prosecutors framed them for murder as teens

Wednesday, May 27, 2020
Chicago Tribune
by Megan Crepeau

Two men exonerated of a 2003 murder have sued Chicago police and Cook County prosecutors in federal court, alleging they manipulated photo evidence, physically abused the pair, and fabricated their supposed confessions out of whole cloth.

John Fulton and Anthony Mitchell were arrested as teenagers, then spent nearly half their lives behind bars before a Cook County judge tossed their convictions last year. Their lawsuits, filed Wednesday, seek damages for civil rights violations and malicious prosecution.

“I still don’t feel free. I still feel like I’m trapped inside of an ice cube, stuck in time. Sometimes I feel like the 18-year-old kid that got locked up, that was always told to tell the truth. The truth didn’t set me free,” Fulton said at a news conference Wednesday. “… It’s a nightmare every day of my life.”

Fulton was two months away from his high school graduation when he was arrested; his fiancee had just given birth to their child, according to a news release from law firm Loevy and Loevy. Mitchell’s girlfriend was pregnant when he was locked up. Neither had any convictions on their records, according to the lawsuits.

“They had everything in the world to look forward to, but instead their lives were shattered,” attorney Sam Heppell said at the news conference.

The two teens were arrested for the grisly 2003 murder of Christopher Collazo, whose body was discovered bound with duct tape and partially burned in an alley in the Back of the Yards neighborhood.

John Fulton stands with attorney Andrea Lyon during a news conference announcing a federal lawsuit May 27, 2020.
John Fulton stands with attorney Andrea Lyon during a news conference announcing a federal lawsuit May 27, 2020.(Erin Hooley / Chicago Tribune)

Police allegedly leaned on a 17-year-old girl to falsely implicate Fulton and Mitchell in the murder, along with another boy, Antonio Shaw.

Fulton had an alibi. On the night of the death, he was with his fiancee at the University of Chicago hospital, then home at their apartment — where security cameras monitored every doorway. And Fulton’s alibi also clears Mitchell, according to the lawsuit, since prosecutors alleged that Fulton was the instigator of the attack and recruited Mitchell for help.

“In order for Anthony to be guilty, John had to be guilty. Because it was John who was supposed to have driven the car, John who supposedly had the beef with the victim,” attorney Andrea Lyon said Wednesday.

But after “false promises of leniency, threats and physical violence,” Fulton, Mitchell and Shaw each gave multiple false confessions, they allege.

A police officer acting as polygrapher even said that before administering a lie detector test, Fulton spontaneously confessed to the murder — a claim the same polygraph officer allegedly made more than 100 times in a five-year period, according to the lawsuit.

“For this phenomenon to happen repeatedly … defies all statistical probability,” Fulton’s lawsuit alleges.

And to get around Fulton’s alibi, an investigator with the Cook County state’s attorney’s office took misleading photos to make it look like there was an unmonitored back door in his apartment complex — when in fact, each door was in view of a security camera and a key-fob system tracked each entry. Fulton could not have left and returned undetected, as authorities claimed, according to the suit.

Shaw succeeded in getting a judge to throw out his confession before trial, and the charges against him were dropped. But Fulton and Mitchell were convicted and each sentenced to 31 years behind bars.

A spokeswoman for the Cook County state’s attorney’s office declined to comment, citing the pending litigation. A representative of the city Law Department also declined to comment, saying it had not yet seen the suit.

About a year after his release from custody, Mitchell spoke with emotion in his voice at the news conference Wednesday publicizing his suit.

“I could stand here all day about how I’m bitter or mad, but I’m not mad at anybody involved,” he said. “I just want justice so it won’t happen to anybody else.”

mcrepeau@chicagotribune.com

Megan Crepeau

Megan Crepeau is the Tribune's Cook County criminal courts reporter, covering trials, policy and legal affairs from her post at one of the nation's busiest courthouses.


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