BY JOE CARLSON firstname.lastname@example.org 219.933.3364 Tuesday, July 29, 2008
HAMMOND City officials want to pay $4.5 million to settle with a man they wrongfully imprisoned for 20 years, and the man wants to accept.
But federal judges are standing in the way, at least for now.
In 2006, Larry Mayes won a lawsuit he filed against the Hammond Police Department, which manipulated evidence to send Mayes to prison for a 1980 rape that modern DNA evidence now proves he did not commit.
Police officials admitted at trial that a detective on the case had used hypnotism on the victim of the attack to try to produce memories of her assailant, despite department policy against the unorthodox technique.
A federal jury awarded Mayes $9 million.
While the verdict was out on appeal, city officials and Mayes' attorneys agreed to settle the case out of court for $4.5 million -- but only if city officials floated a bond for the settlement and if federal judges agreed to invalidate the $9 million judgment.
The Hammond City Council approved the bond in April, but the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has denied the request to throw out the jury award.
Many appeals courts across the country will automatically vacate an earlier court decision in order to promote settlements, but the Chicago-based 7th Circuit has refused, citing a concern about wasting judicial resources and other issues, U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul Cherry wrote.
"The parties do not have a settlement without the entry of an order vacating the jury verdict," Cherry wrote.
Hammond City Counsel Joseph O'Connor said the city wants the Mayes case erased from the court record before a similar case becomes and issue -- that of James T. Hill, who served 17 years in prison on the same 1980 rape and who also argues his DNA does not match samples recovered from the victim. City officials are expecting a lawsuit in that case based on court filings from Hill in Lake County court.
Despite the 7th Circuit's reluctance to invalidate the Mayes verdict, Cherry gave both sides until Aug. 8 to submit arguments regarding why the court should toss out a verdict that came after a two-week trial and "many hours of deliberation."
"I think it's just a small glitch, and it's going to be overcome. And this will be resolved," O'Connor said.