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State

Cleared Illinois men reach $40 million settlement

CHICAGO – Five men convicted and later cleared of the 1991 rape and murder of a suburban Chicago girl have reached a $40 million settlement in a civil lawsuit against the Illinois State Police, their attorneys said Wednesday.

The men, who came to be known as the "Dixmoor 5," were teenagers when they were arrested in the death of Cateresa Matthews, a 14-year-old from Dixmoor. They spent a decade or more in prison before DNA evidence cleared them.

Speaking in a federal court lobby in Chicago, lawyers for the men heralded the settlement as bringing their wrongly imprisoned clients a degree of justice. One of the attorneys, Peter Neufeld, called for an investigation into the prevalence of false confessions in the Chicago area.

"What Cooperstown is to baseball, Chicago and Cook County has been to false confessions," he said. "It is not the Hall of Fame – it is the Hall of Shame."

Robert Taylor, James Harden and Jonathan Barr were freed in 2011 after 19 years in prison, while Shainne Sharp and Robert Veal were released after 10 years behind bars.

According to the plaintiffs' filings, at least one of the three who confessed was beaten by officers and all those who confessed were coerced and illegally taken advantage of by the officers who were under pressure to solve the case.

The settlement is only with the state police, one of the defendants in a suit filed in 2012. The case continues against the Village of Dixmoor. In court filings, lawyers for the village denied allegations that its officer coerced confessions.

A State Police spokeswoman did not immediately return a call on Wednesday seeking comment.

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