Man Regains Job With the White Sox After Decades of Wrongful Imprisonment FOR RAPE
In 1994, Nevest Coleman was a man with a bright future. He was 25, had two children, attended church in the Chicago area, and worked as a groundskeeper at Comiskey Park, the home of the White Sox.
But that year, according to court documents, his life was upended. Mr. Coleman was falsely convicted of the rape and murder of a young woman and sent to prison. Last November, after he had spent 23 years behind bars, he was released based on DNA evidence that revealed he had not committed the crime, the documents say.
So on Monday, Mr. Coleman, now 49, did what any free man with an independent streak would do. With a home-packed lunch in hand, he returned to work at the same site he had left decades before.
“I like to work for what I have,” he told WGN-TV, speaking on his first day back after being rehired. “The past is in the past now.”
“When I was in there I was miserable,” Mr. Coleman said of his time in prison. “But now I got my loved ones behind me. The misery is gone now.”
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Mr. Coleman told local television stations that he often watched White Sox games while behind bars and dreamed of getting his job back. He said he could hear cheers from neighboring cells when the team won the World Series in 2005.
On Monday, the stadium as he knew it had changed. There were more lights, electronic signs and security. It had been renamed Guaranteed Rate Field. But a few former co-workers were still there and greeted him when he returned.
A Chicago White Sox groundskeeper is back at work after spending 23 years in prison for a crime he did not commit https://cbsn.ws/2pImidj
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One of the men who met him at the field was Jerry Powe, a co-worker in 1994 and now his supervisor. Mr. Powe had testified as a character witness for Mr. Coleman at the death penalty phase of his sentencing.
“We were buddies back then, but now I am his boss, so it’s a little bit different now,” Mr. Powe said.
The judge had acknowledged that there was no evidence linking Mr. Coleman to the crime and that he did not have a criminal record, but gave him a life sentence for the murder conviction and a consecutive 30-year sentence for the sexual assault conviction, the court documents show.
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In February, Mr. Coleman’s lawyers filed a civil-rights complaint in district court seeking damages and a jury trial. The suit named the city of Chicago, Cook County and members of the Chicago Police Department as defendants.
It says that Mr. Coleman was coerced into confessing by detectives, and that he was punched in the face. Some of the detectives named in the suit procured confessions in more than a dozen other murder cases in which charges were dropped or the defendant was acquitted at trial, The Chicago Tribune reported in 2001.
The complaint said that in April 1994, Mr. Coleman’s mother asked him to investigate a terrible smell coming from the basement of their apartment building in the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago. He and a friend went to take a look, and saw the body of a young woman, Antwinica Bridgeman. They told Mr. Coleman’s mother, who called 911.
Ms. Bridgeman had been raped and impaled with a pipe, and a brick had been crammed into her mouth, the complaint said. Mr. Coleman and his friend voluntarily went to the police station to tell the officers how they found the body, and were released. But investigators returned to his home during the night and brought him back to the station.
He was interrogated over 12 hours, punched twice in the face and addressed with a racial slur, according to the complaint. Deprived of sleep, he was coerced into confessing with false promises of leniency, the complaint said.
The Cook County state’s attorney’s office said on Tuesday it had no comment. Lawyers for the police department and the city did not immediately reply to requests for comment.
The state’s attorney reopened the case in 2016 amid new information about police misconduct and DNA evidence from semen samples taken from Ms. Bridgeman’s body and clothing. The DNA pointed to a known serial rapist who had gone on to rape three more women, the complaint said.
On Nov. 17 last year, Mr. Coleman’s convictions and life sentence were vacated and he walked free, reuniting with his adult children, whom he left when they were 2 years old and 3 months old.
“He must now attempt to make a life for himself outside prison without the benefit of two decades of life experiences which normally equip adults for that task,” the complaint said.