Last plaintiff gets $4 million from county

By: Hal Dardick, Chicago Tribune: December 18th, 2008

Thirty years after a south suburban double murder that led to notorious wrongful prosecutions, the Cook County Board on Wednesday settled the last related civil lawsuit for $4 million.

Paula Gray, convicted of perjury but later pardoned for her role as a witness in the prosecution of four men known as the Ford Heights Four, will receive the money. Her testimony was coerced, case critics allege.

“This is the last plaintiff,” Assistant State’s Atty. Patrick Driscoll Jr. told commissioners. “This will end this litigation.”

A total of $36 million already was paid to the four men, two of whom were sentenced to death, initially convicted in the 1978 murders of Larry Lionberg and Carol Schmal in what then was East Chicago Heights.

In the end, the case was “an extraordinary, ugly, sad” lesson to the county, said Commissioner Mike Quigley (D-Chicago), long a critic of how it was handled.

Police and prosecutors, he added, still need to think differently. “I think that they need to be seeking justice, not just having convictions first and foremost in their mind,” he said.

Sally Daly, spokeswoman for State’s Atty. Anita Alvarez, responded: “Prosecutors are guided first and foremost by doing the right thing, by seeking justice on behalf of the victims of crime,”

Sheriffs deputies arrested Dennis Williams, Verneal Jimerson, Kenneth Adams and Willie Rainge, and each was convicted of murder in the double homicide.

All four were later exonerated by DNA, and three other men were convicted. A fourth suspect had died.