By: Natasha Korecki, Chicago Sun-Times: January 12th, 2005

A federal jury on Tuesday began deliberating over whether a former Chicago Police officer and freed Death Row inmate deserves more than $20 million in damages – or anything at all – after he accused two FBI agents of framing him in two crimes.

The case was put in the hands of the jury Tuesday after the monthlong trial that followed Steve Manning, 54, suing FBI agents Robert Buchan and Gary Miller.

Attorneys for Miller and Buchan say the veteran agents had no motive to put their careers on the line and frame Manning. The two followed legitimate leads and found what they believed was credible evidence against Manning, attorney Jonathan Haile said.

But Manning charges that Buchan and Miller stacked the deck against him by coaching witnesses, not disclosing that witnesses were getting paid and allegedly leaking sensitive information to an informant.

Alleges frame-up

In 1993 Manning was convicted and sent to Illinois death row in the murder of trucking-firm owner James Pellegrino. Prosecutors relied heavily on the testimony of often-used jailhouse informant Tommy Dye, who claimed Manning confessed to him in prison. Manning was cleared in 2000 after a higher court ruled some evidence should not have been allowed during trial. He was sent to Missouri to serve a 200-year sentence in a 1992 conviction for the kidnapping of 2 Kansas City drug dealers. That conviction was overturned after flaws were found in that case.

Manning attorney Jon Loevy said Buchan and Miller had their hands in both cases. Loevy also said Dye knew too many details that Loevy suggested were leaked to him.

Loevy said the agents framed him to retaliate after Manning stopped serving as an FBI informant. Loevy accused them of wanting to further their careers by putting a former police officer on death row.

Plaintiff called anything but an angel

Loevy said the agents should pay for putting Manning behind bars where he not only lost his free life for 14 years, but had to endure the violent world of prison.

“They put Steve Manning in hell,” Loevy told the jury.

Loevy asked jurors for $20 million to compensate Manning’s jail time and another $200,000 in punitive damages. Loevy asked jurors to decide for themselves what Manning deserves in “economic damages” for money he lost while locked up.

But Haile said Manning doesn’t deserve any damages. Haile said Manning didn’t offer any evidence that the two agents were out to get him.

He also said Manning wasn’t an angel. Manning had pleaded guilty to a burglary he took part in while he was a police officer. He was also convicted in an insurance scam. During his testimony, Manning admitted he took bribes while he was a police officer. And while in jail, Manning admitted to arranging with Dye for a fake alibi for a murder he said he didn’t commit.