Yet Another Victim of Police Misconduct

Seventh Circuit Affirms Expert Witness Testimony Following $25 Million Jury Verdict

October 23, 2013 by Inna Kraner

An expert witness vindicated the innocence of a Chicago man who spent 16 years in prison for a murder he did not commit. Thaddeus Jimenez was just 13 year old when he became the focus of a police investigation following the murder of 19 year old Eric Morro. In May 2009, a federal jury found that Jimenez was wrongly imprisoned because of coercive tactics employed by former Chicago police detective Jerome Bogucki. This Seventh Circuit ruling finally exonerates the now 33-year old man whose emotional story (he is the youngest victim of wrongful conviction) resulted in a $25 million jury award for compensatory damages, one of the most substantial verdicts in Chicago’s history.

The City of Chicago appealed the verdict, in part objecting to the testimony provided by Jimenez’s expert witness. They argued that the testimony of expert witness Gregg McCrary was improperly admitted. McCrary worked for the FBI for 25 years, spending 17 years investigating violent crimes as a field agent until his promotion to the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia as a Supervisory Special Agent. He testified describing reasonable practices for police investigations and how the investigation of the murder of Eric Morro departed from those practices. McCrary “told the jury what a reasonable police investigator should have done when presented with these conflicting and/or inculpatory statements during the murder investigation.”

However, the City of Chicago argued that “‘reasonableness’ is a legal conclusion, and experts should not provide legal opinions.” This was a critical element in their appeal as McCrary’s expert witness testimony “tended to show that the errors in defendants’ handling of the investigation were so severe and numerous as to support an inference of deliberate wrongdoing in violation of the Constitution.” The City of Chicago’s motion in limine argued that McCrary’s expert witness testimony “affected their substantial rights” as it “amounted to legal conclusions that were not admissible under Federal Rule of Evidence 702.”

The Seventh Circuit upheld the expert witness testimony. U.S. Circuit Judge David Hamilton rejected the City of Chicago’s motion, finding that “the bulk of their argument depends on comparing McCrary’s ‘lengthy and purposeful’ testimony with the ‘weaknesses’ of Jimenez’s claims – in other words, re-weighing the evidence while drawing all inferences in the defendants’ favor. We may not do so.” The Court held that McCrary’s expert witness testimony “was within the bounds of proper testimony for a police practices expert.”

McCrary’s expert witness report from October 2011 illustrates how police investigators “conducted a substandard investigation into the murder of Eric Morro that resulted in the wrongful conviction of the plaintiff and left the true killer of Eric Morro on the streets free to kill again.” Police investigators failed to follow the basics of proper police investigation, focusing on Jimenez being the suspect instead of analyzing the victim’s lifestyle and the situational dynamics to “determine what, if anything, elevated a given individual’s risk for becoming the victim of a violent crime.”

The police developed little or no background information regarding” the victim Eric Morro. Moreover, they ignored evidence surrounding the fatal shooting that pointed to Juan Carlos Torres being the actual shooter. McCrary’s expert witness report goes on to state that “the investigators developed tunnel vision about Jimenez being the shooter and failed to fully investigate Juan Carlos Torres as a suspect and ignored or failed to investigate disconfirming evidence regarding Thaddeus Jimenez.”

McCrary’s testimony was instrumental in proving Jimenez’s claim of malicious prosecution and violation of due process. It should also be noted that the Assistant State’s Attorney and the police investigating Jimenez received a tape of a recorded “conversation during which Torres confessed to the killing.” Yet, “no jury ever heard Juan Carlos Torres’s tape-recorded confession to Eric Morro’s murder.”

Bogucki, the police detective who helmed the investigation “stipulated on the record after the jury’s verdict that his actions had violated Jimenez’s constitutional rights and that the verdict was ‘correct in every way.'”

About the Author: The Expert Institute

The Expert Institute is a New York-based company that connects attorneys to subject matter experts. You can connect with The Expert Institute on Facebook and Twitter and by following their blog