By: Kim Janssen, Chicago Sun-Times: October 18th, 2012

Five south suburban men who were wrongfully convicted of murder while they were teenagers have filed a federal lawsuit alleging crooked cops framed them.

The so-called “Dixmoor Five” — who between them served more than 70 years for the 1991 rape and murder of 14-year-old Cateresa Matthews — say Dixmoor Police and the State Police coerced false confessions, witheld evidence and invented witness testimony.

DNA evidence identified the true killer, a convicted sex offender with no connection to Robert Taylor, Jonathan Barr, James Harden, Shainne Sharp and Robert Veal, the suits say.

Though the convicted sex offender — then 33 — has not been charged with the murder, DNA evidence links him to the crime and he had been convicted of raping another woman in the same Dixmoor field where Matthews was killed, the suits say.

Police knew DNA evidence excluded the Dixmoor Five — and that a sex offender had been released on parole shortly before the murder — but withheld the evidence from defense attorneys, the suits allege.

Wednesday morning, four of the five stood before cameras to demand justice at a news conference with the attorneys who helped overturn their convictions.

“We went through a lot,” an emotional Robert Taylor said. “This one incident destroyed so many lives.”

Sharp appeared lost for words but sent a message to Matthews’ family, who he said are also victims of injustice, telling them, “I’m so sorry for your loss.”

The suits do not state how much the men are seeking in damages and the men said that no amount of money could give them back the years they lost. But similar cases have resulted in payouts in excess of $20 million.

Taylor, Harden and Barr were released from prison in November 2011 after serving 19 years and have since been granted certificates of innocence by the state. Sharp and Veal — previously released after serving 10 year prison terms — are still fighting for the certificates.

According to the lawsuits, at least one of the three who confessed was beaten by officers. All those who confessed were coerced and illegally taken advantage of by the officers who were under pressure to solve a heater case, the men’s attorneys said. The officers also falsified witness evidence to secure convictions, the suits allege.

Flint Taylor of the People’s Law Office said, “We need to ask…why do these cases happen: why do young African-American men go to prison for crimes they did not commit?”

Dixmoor officials and the Illinois State Police did not return calls seeking comment.