01/18/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Illinois Wrongful Conviction Tab Tops $100 Million

A $4 million settlement of a civil rights case brought by a woman from whom Cook County deputy sheriffs coerced a false confession 30 years ago has driven the total tab for Illinois wrongful conviction verdicts and settlements past the $100 million mark.

The Cook County Board unanimously approved the $4 million settlement yesterday for Paula Gray, who was 17 in 1978 when she was grilled overnight in two motels until she implicated herself and four young men in a horrific kidnapping, rape, and double murder they did not commit.

Gray soon recanted her confession and was charged with perjury in addition to the murders of Lawrence Lionberg and Carol Schmal. Two of the men Gray falsely implicated, Dennis Williams and Verneal Jimerson, were sentenced to death. The other two, Willie Rainge and Kenneth Adams, were sentenced to long prison terms. Gray was sentenced to 50 years.

All five defendants were exonerated by DNA testing in 1996, and suits filed by the four men were settled for $36 million -- the largest civil rights settlement for wrongful convictions in U.S. history.

All five defendants were African-American. The victims were white, and the convictions were rendered by all-white juries.

The largest award to an individual for a wrongful conviction in Illinois was $15 million to James Newsome, an African-American man framed by Chicago police for the murder of a white grocer in 1979.

Among other significant Illinois payments were $9 million to Lafonso Rollins, a innocent African-American youth framed by Chicago police in the rapes of elderly white women; $6.4 million to four African-American youths who falsely confessed to the murder of Lori Roscetti, a white medical student in Chicago; and $19.8 million to four African-American men who, under torture by white Chicago police officers, confessed to murders they did not commit.

In all, total Illinois civil rights settlements and jury awards since the dawning of the DNA age in 1989 now stand at $101.1 million and counting.

The only accountability has been the taxpayers' -- perhaps deservedly so, given that it is they who have tolerated, and continue to tolerate, widespread police and prosecutorial malfeasance.

None of the police and prosecutors who were actually responsible for the misconduct that led to the awards ever have paid a single cent.