April 19, 2012
Exonerated man wants death penalty abolished across nation
By: Harry Hitzeman
Sentenced to death by lethal injection for a double homicide, Chicagoan Nathson “Nate” Fields just about lost all hope when a fellow inmate showed him a newspaper article in 1991 that said the judge who convicted Fields was charged with taking a bribe.
“I thanked the Lord and I cried,” Fields recalled Thursday while speaking at Aurora University.
Fields spent more than 11 years on Death Row and nearly 18 years behind bars before being exonerated three years ago in the double murder of gang members Jerome Smith and Talman Hickman outside a Chicago public housing complex on April 28, 1984.
Speaking as part of a program called “From Death Row to Freedom: An Innocent Man's Journey,” Fields said he wants the death penalty — which was abolished in Illinois last year — snuffed out across the nation.
He said the human element of making mistakes is just too strong and too serious when the ultimate punishment is the consequence. In baseball, an umpire can reverse a bad call; not so when it comes to capital punishment, Field said.
“You can't bring a man back from the grave,” he said. “A baseball player can return to the field.”
Fields won a new trial after Cook County Judge Thomas Maloney was sent to prison after his 1993 conviction for taking a $10,000 bribe in Fields' case from the attorney of Fields' co-defendant.
He was found not guilty in spring 2009 and awarded a Certificate of Innocence later that year. Fields works with a group called Witness to Innocence and has spoken across the country about his ordeal. While he was locked up in an 8-foot by 9-foot cell 23 hours a day, 11 people were executed and others died of poor medical care. He has a pending case against Cook County for $360 million in damages.
Fields said he was robbed of precious years of being a father and didn't get to go to his mother's funeral.
He also wants an apology.
“I'm not angry (about the wrongful conviction),” Fields said. “I'm just happy the Lord let me live through this so I could tell my story.”
While Fields' case had to do with a crooked judge, Warden pointed to numerous other cases in Illinois that were reversed because defendants gave false confessions.
Warden said law enforcement often brainwashes defendants into admitting guilt, interrogates them for days or feed them false promises that if they confess they could avoid more serious charges going forward.
“We can't imagine any circumstance in which (a false confession) would occur. But we know it's amazingly prevalent,” he said. “Most of these are simply psychologically coerced.”
Warden said 53 of the 101 documented wrongful convictions in Illinois have involved false confessions.