James Newsome

James Newsome at Northwestern Law in February 2003. (Photo: Jennifer Linzer)

James Newsome at Northwestern Law in February 2003. (Photo: Jennifer Linzer)

Police deceit and erroneous ID testimony led to 15 years of wrongful imprisonment

In 1979, two Chicago Police officers, with guns drawn, stopped James Newsome near Wrigley Field and took him to the Town Hall district station for questioning about an armed robbery. The police satisfied themselves that he had nothing to do with that crime, but one officer thought he resembled a composite sketch of a suspect in a murder case.

Although Newsome was taller and several years younger than the suspect and had a mole not shown in the composite sketch, and although two eyewitnesses had picked photographs of someone else out of a mug book, police put Newsome into a lineup. He was then informed that he had been identified.

Newsome was tried and convicted of the murder and armed robbery and sentenced to life in prison in 1980 based on testimony of three eyewitnesses, including the two who previously had identified other persons' photographs.

In 1989, with the help of University of Chicago Law Professor Norval Morris, Newsome obtained a court order requiring the Chicago Police Department to run unidentified fingerprints from the murder scene through the Automated Fingerprint Identification System The check was run, and the officer in charge reported — falsely — that the search found no prints matching anyone else. It was not until five years later that police belatedly admitted that in fact prints had been found to match those of Dennis Emerson, who by now was on death row from another murder.

On that basis, Newsome was freed in 1994 and Governor Jim Edgar granted him a pardon based on innocence the following year.

Case Data

Jurisdiction: Cook County, Illinois
Date of crime: October 30, 1979
Date of arrest: October 31, 1979
Convicted of: Murder, armed robbery, armed violence
Prior adult felony record: None
Trial judge: Richard Petrarca
Lead prosecutor: William O'Connor (assisted by William Lippner)
Defense counsel (type): Privately retained
Sentence: Life
Release date: December 6, 1994 (on electronic home monitoring until January 5, 1995)
Months wrongfully incarcerated: 182
Date of birth: January 2, 1955
Age at time of arrest: 24
Gender: Male
Race: African American
No. of victims: 1
Age(s) of victim(s): 72
Gender of victim(s): Male
Race of victim(s): Caucasian
Known factors leading to wrongful conviction: Erroneous eyewitness identification, police misconduct (prompting of witnesses during lineup)
Did an appellate court ever affirm conviction? Yes — People v. Newsome, 110 Ill. App. 3d 1043 (1982)
Exonerated by: Fingerprint analysis
Mandated compensation for wrongful imprisonment: Yes
Date awarded: November 21, 1997
Months lapsed from exoneration to compensation: 34 months
Civil damage award: Pending
Defendents in civil action: John McCabe, Raymond McNally and City of Chicago
Date awarded: Pending
Months lapsed exoneration to award: Pending

— Rob Warden