In 1994, Nevest Coleman, 25 and the father of two small children, had a job he loved as a groundskeeper at Comiskey Park, where the White Sox play.
That same year, Coleman was wrongly convicted of rape and murder, and sent to prison. At the end of last year, following 23 years behind bars, DNA evidence proved that he had not he had not committed the crime. He was released.
And the White Sox gave him his old job back. As Major League Baseball’s Opening Day looms, Coleman once again is caring for the green field.
How often does that happen, I wonder?
Coleman may end up with some money to go with his new-old job. The judge who sentenced him acknowledged that there was no evidence linking Coleman to the crime, and he did not have a criminal record, but never mind: the judge gave him a life sentence for the murder conviction and a consecutive 30-year sentence for the sexual assault conviction. Coleman should have been released as a matter of law, except that he had confessed to the rape and murder after being beaten, abused and lied to by police. Coleman’s lawyers have filed a civil-rights complaint in district court seeking damages against the city of Chicago, Cook County and members of the Chicago Police Department. They robbed him of 23 years of his life; I don’t see why he wouldn’t prevail.
I also don’t understand why the universal rule allowing police to lie to suspects in order to get confessions continues to be tolerated by the courts. False confessions are common, but the average juror who hasn’t been subjected to abusive and dishonest questioning doesn’t believe that anyone who is innocent would ever confess to a crime he or she didn’t commit. Police tell suspects that the case against them is air-tight and that only a confession will save them from the harshest punishment. They are sleep deprived and frightened, often ignorant of the law, and desperate. Any confession acquired under those circumstances should be thrown out.
Stronger ethics on the part of suspects would also help. The majority of the public are devotees of ethics lite, believing that the truth can be jettisoned for sufficient cause, and police rely on that weakness. A false confession is a substantial lie. If there ever was a situation where personal integrity and the refusal to be dishonest even to avoid dire consequences would be necessary, it is when police are trying to use a coerced confession to substitute for evidence of a crime.
Coleman is just happy to be out of prison, united with his now adult children, and again working for the White Sox. The team, at least, did the right thing.
UPDATE: Now read this…