Frankton, Indiana settled with Billy Julian for $3 million in wrongful conviction case

By: Dave Stafford, The Indiana Lawyer: August 11, 2015

A man who spent more than three years in prison after he was wrongly convicted of breaking into Frankton High School and setting it on fire will receive one of the largest wrongful conviction settlements ever in Indiana, his attorneys announced Tuesday.

Attorneys for Billy Julian at Chicago-based civil rights law firm Loevy & Loevy said he would receive a $3 million settlement from events dating to the 2001 break in and fire at the Madison County school. Attorneys said the settlement with the town of Frankton in Madison County and three named law enforcement officers appears to be the third largest ever awarded in an Indiana wrongful conviction case.

“He’s doing fairly well, considering,” said Elizabeth Wang, one of the team of lawyers who represented Julian. “He’s happy to have this behind him. It’s been quite a long road.”

Julian was convicted in 2003, but his conviction was overturned in 2006 because officials withheld potentially exculpatory evidence and relied on fabricated testimony. “Due to the officers’ misconduct, false charges hung over (Julian’s) head until the charges were dismissed in 2010,” the firm said in a statement.

Julian, through his attorneys Steve Art, Mike Kanovitz and Wang, alleged that former Madison County Sheriff’s Deputy Sam Hanna coached a troubled 15-year-old student into falsely confessing to the break in and fire, also implicating Julian. But the teen’s story was so full of contradictions that he was dropped as a witness and Julian was released from custody, the firm said in a statement.

Hanna and two Town of Frankton officers, David Huffman and William Amick, then threatened Jeffrey Scott Brooks, a burglary suspect in another case, into turning state’s evidence against Julian in exchange for leniency in his own case, the firm said. Hanna, Huffman and Amick (who also served as security supervisor at the school) then allegedly induced Jeffrey Scott Brooks’ brother, Ray, into falsely testifying to save his brother’s freedom, according to the Loevy & Loevy statement. All three officers were accused of feeding the brothers details of the crimes so that their testimonies would be more believable.

But Jeffrey Scott Brooks was under house arrest, with an ankle monitoring bracelet, on the night of the Frankton school fire. Bracelet records showed that he was home and not at the school parking lot as he said in his statement fabricated by the officers. Both brothers later repudiated their testimony, the firm said.

In January 2011, Julian sued in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, claiming the officers manipulated, coached, threatened or coerced witnesses into pinning the crime on Julian.

Loevy further alleged, “the defendant officers, over the course of more than nine years, also manipulated physical evidence, manufactured false inculpatory evidence, and lost or destroyed material exculpatory evidence.”

No disciplinary actions were taken by the authorities against Hanna, Huffman or Amick, the firm said in a statement. Wang said the settlement total includes legal fees and costs.

District Judge Tanya Walton Pratt ordered the case dismissed Aug. 3 after both sides stipulated settlement. The case is Julian v. Hanna et al., 1:11-cv-01536.

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