Wrongfully Convicted Illinois Man Studied Law in Prison, Wins $15M Settlement

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After spending 20 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, 51-year-old Chicago Heights, Illinois resident Rodell Sanders was awarded $15 million on Sept. 28 for his time spent behind bars.

According to The Chicago Tribune, Sanders gained his freedom two years ago after two retrials and gaining the assistance of the University of Chicago’s Exoneration Project. Sanders — who is now a grandfather — was sentenced to 20 years for allegedly killing a man in a Dec. 1993 gang hit.

However, evidence and two decades of investigations proved otherwise. The catalyst that started Sanders’ quest to prove his innocence was a confession letter. According to court records, the only survivor sent the letter to Sanders’ girlfriend six months after the gang incident.

The letter reads:

“I know that you are still mad at me for helping the police to lie on Rodell about that murder,” the letter stated, according to court records. “But I was scared. Like I told you before, the police told me to lie on Rodell and put his name on this (expletive). … They wanted Rodell instead of me because they need me to come to court on another case, then help them put Rodell away forever.”

Furthermore, the letter alleges that Chicago Heights Police framed Sanders for the killing. The exonerated man’s attorney believed two Chicago Heights detectives cropped a photo to make it appear that their client was the killer.

Sanders’ attorneys also told the Tribune that the lookout gave Sanders up to get a shorter prison sentence.

To prove his innocence, Sanders’ family raised $1,000 so that he could teach himself law. He eventually won a new trial after court filings and cross-examining nearly a dozen witnesses.

“Those were corrupt police officers,” Sanders tells reporters. “From day one, I said they framed me. No one believed me. And now it’s finally come out. I don’t know if it makes things right. I will never get back the 20 years they have taken from me. [And] I lost those years with my family, with my children.”

Now, Sanders works in the law firm that helped him, per WGN TV. He plans on getting to know his seven grandkids while enjoying his newfound wealth. WGN TV reports that the city of Chicago Heights admits no wrongdoing and settled because they feel this was the better option for tax payers.

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