Chicago would pay ex-Roscetti defendant

Chicago Sun-Times, July 29, 2003
http://www.suntimes.com/
By Fran Spielman City Hall Reporter

Chicago would pay $1.5 million to one of four men convicted, then exonerated by DNA evidence, of the 1986 murder and rape of Rush University medical student Lori Roscetti under a controversial settlement advanced Monday by a City Council committee.

The controversy had nothing to do with whether Calvin Ollins, the first to settle, deserved to be compensated for the 15 years he spent in prison on a wrongful conviction.

The issue was whether $100,000 a year was enough to make Ollins whole. He was 14 when he went to prison and 29 when DNA evidence cleared his name. At the time of his conviction, Ollins was the only one of the four defendants with no prior criminal history.

“This is a bad deal. . . . I really don’t think $1.5 million is adequate for what this guy has gone through,” said Ald. Ed Smith (28th).

Other aldermen were less concerned about being fair to Ollins and more intent on shielding Chicago taxpayers from an eight-figure settlement.

“To my colleagues who have reservations about it–you don’t want this case to go in front of a jury because we’ll get whacked beyond belief. For the plaintiff to accept a settlement like this is very, very generous. We could really get killed on this,” said Ald. Freddrenna Lyle (6th).

“We couldn’t get a better deal. It’s a bargain. We should grab it and run with it,” said Ald. William Beavers (7th).

Ollins could not be reached for comment Monday. His attorney, Kathleen Zellner, said she agreed to the $1.5 million settlement because so many similar cases across the country have been dismissed before the question of damages is even considered.

“Juries find there was probable cause for the arrest even if a mistake was made,” said Zellner.

Roscetti was a young medical student who was abducted, raped and murdered on Oct. 18, 1986. Her body was found outside her car near a railroad yard at 15th and Loomis.

Three months later, Marcellius Bradford told a pair of Chicago police detectives that Calvin Ollins, then 14, and his cousin Larry Ollins, then 16, raped and killed Roscetti while Bradford and Omar Saunders watched.

In December 2001, DNA evidence exonerated all four defendants and the charges were dropped. Before leaving office, Illinois Gov. George Ryan pardoned the Roscetti Four, who then sued the city of Chicago.

Claiming he has “diminished cognitive ability,” Calvin Ollins alleged police officers tricked him into confessing by claiming he had been fingered by his cousin, and by falsely promising he would be released if he came clean.

Ollins further alleged detectives gave him details of the confession until he memorized it and recited it back to the assistant state’s attorney. The police officer, state’s attorney and court reporter all insisted that Calvin Ollins’ confession was voluntary and he alone provided the details.

On Monday, Smith demanded to know why the police officers involved in the case had not been punished for their actions. He accused the Police Department of sweeping the case under the rug.

Finance Committee Chairman Edward M. Burke (14th) disagreed. “There was a court reporter present. There was a state’s attorney present. Apparently all of the parties are saying the officers didn’t do anything wrong,” Burke said.

Law Department spokeswoman Jennifer Hoyle insisted there was “no evidence that the officers committed any misconduct. They haven’t been found guilty. No charges have been sustained against them. This is a case where defendants were cleared by DNA testing, which was not available at the time the crime was committed. That is the largest single factor leading to them being pardoned by the governor.”

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