Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center

NEWS: Framed for Rape and Murder at Age 14, Johnnie Lee Savory Today Sued the Police Who Wrecked His Life

Attorneys for Johnnie Lee Savory, who at the age of 14 was wrongfully convicted of a double murder that he did not commit, have filed a civil rights damages suit against the City of Peoria and numerous Peoria police officers.

The suit alleges that these officers, acting jointly, repeatedly violated Savory’s constitutional rights while framing him for these crimes despite having no credible evidence to support the charges that they brought against him.

It alleges that the police defendants subjected Johnnie to an unconstitutional police interrogation lasting 31 hours which was physically and psychologically coercive, that they unconstitutionally coerced witnesses into giving false testimony against him, and that they unconstitutionally suppressed and destroyed evidence that would have exonerated him.

The suit, which was filed in U. S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, further asserts that the physical evidence which was not destroyed further established that Savory was innocent, and that the police ignored and suppressed evidence that pointed to other more likely suspects. The suit also names the City of Peoria for having policies, practices and customs that caused the wholesale violation of Savory’s constitutional rights.

The suit also sets forth how profoundly his wrongful conviction and illegal imprisonment impacted Savory’s life. In 1977, at the age of 14, Johnnie was charged with killing his best friend and his best friend’s sister, and faced the death penalty. Despite his innocence, he was convicted, labeled as the worst kind of violent criminal, and sentenced to 50 to 100 years in the penitentiary.

Finally, 30 years later, at the age of 44, he was released on parole, and had to fight for another eight years before he received a pardon from the Governor. Having lost his youth and young adulthood to dehumanizing prison life, Johnnie has nonetheless devoted himself since his release to giving support to other wrongfully convicted prisoners, and to starting his own family. While Johnnie knows that no amount of money can fully compensate him for what he has lost, he believes that this lawsuit will bring him some measure of long delayed justice.

Savory is represented by Flint Taylor and John Stainthorp of the People’s Law Office, Locke Bowman and Alexa Van Brunt of the MacArthur Justice Center, and Jon Loevy and Steven Art of Loevy and Loevy. PDF of the lawsuit HERE »

The Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center is a public interest law firm founded in 1985 by the family of J. Roderick MacArthur to advocate for human rights and social justice through litigation. The MacArthur Justice Center became part of Northwestern University School of Law's Bluhm Legal Clinic in 2006. As one of the premier civil rights organizations in the United States, the MacArthur Justice Center has led battles against myriad civil rights injustices, including police misconduct (leading the charge to appoint a special prosecutor in the Jon Burge torture cases in Chicago), executions (helping to abolish the Illinois death penalty), fighting for the rights of the indigent in the criminal justice system, and winning multi-million dollar verdicts and settlements for the wrongfully convicted.

The MacArthur Justice Center has been at the forefront of challenges to the detention of terrorism suspects without trial or access to the courts. MacArthur Justice Center lawyers have appeared before the U.S. Supreme Court to argue for the rights of detainees.

"We are outraged when the rule of law is abandoned in favor of expediency," says Center Executive Director Locke Bowman. "And so we fight for the rights of folks whose voices don't get heard in the criminal justice system. We're concerned about people on death row, about people accused of crimes but who cannot afford lawyers, about folks who are innocent and must be compensated for the time they wrongly spent in prison."

Students are involved in nearly every case the MacArthur Justice Center takes. They serve on litigation teams, conduct and apply legal research, and plan next steps to advance litigation. Some cases, such as wrongful conviction compensation cases, are complex; involving lengthy pre-trial process, motion practice, written discovery, depositions, and, sometimes, a trial. Students gain first-hand experience in court, and in certain instances, get opportunities to make presentations to a Federal judge.

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