Boy Sues Chicago over False Arrest
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
When two boys were arrested for murder in Chicago seven years ago, their case fueled a national debate over the treatment of juveniles in the criminal justice system. They were age seven and age eight and they were among the youngest in the country ever to be charged with murder. This week attorneys will present closing arguments in a lawsuit filed by one of the boys accusing the city of wrongful arrest. NPR's Cheryl Corley reports.
CHERYL CORLEY reporting:
He is now 15, a tall, slim teen-ager, but the youngster known as EH in this case was eight and less than 4 feet tall when he and a seven-year-old friend were charged with killing 11-year-old Ryan Harris. The girl had been molested, suffocated and left in a wooded back yard not far from EH's home. Chicago police said the boys confessed to the murder, but the charges were later dropped after DNA evidence implicated a convicted pedophile. Attorney Andre Grant says the events the boy experienced before and after he was charged with murder turned him into a recluse who is afraid of the police.
Mr. ANDRE GRANT (Attorney): This is a nice, beautiful, well-mannered child, and he's always been. The only problem now is that he's locked inside of himself and we got to get him out, and we hope--you know, there's always a glimmer of hope, you know, and we got to bring that hope back out of him, and that's what this court case is about, and that's what this jury is about, giving this kid hope again.
CORLEY: During his arrest and interrogation, the boy's parents were not present. He was housed at a psychiatric facility since there was no detention center for a juvenile so young. When allowed to go home, EH was required to wear an ankle monitoring device. City attorneys argued the police did nothing wrong and were justified at the time they made the arrest. Special prosecutor Brian Crowe says EH was likely affected by it all, but he says other events, like the deaths of a grandmother and other relatives and a fire, may have had more of a negative impact.
Mr. BRIAN CROWE (Special Prosecutor): But there's things going on in this family, things going on in the life of this little boy that I think are a cause of--a condition of ill-being, any stress or anxieties that he might have.
CORLEY: The trial has been contentious, with the judge often dismissing the jury to settle arguments between the attorneys. An alternate juror was dismissed for discussing the case, two others chastised for using their cell phones to text message non-trial-related notes to each other. The Chicago City Council has also weighed in, taking an unusual step of urging the city to settle the case.
Ms. FREDDRENNA LYLE (Alderman, Chicago City Council): We're defending the indefensible.
CORLEY: Alderman Freddrenna Lyle is among a number of other council members who believe the city got off easy when it reached a $2 million settlement with the family of the other boy who had been accused of the Ryan Harris murder. Lyle says she believes EH and his family should receive more, but by settling, the city will avoid having to pay what she expects will be a huge jury award.
Ms. LYLE: And because it is morally the right thing to do, let's settle and bring this family some closure.
CORLEY: Chicago Mayor Richard Daley and other city officials say the council's involvement complicates the matter, but negotiations will continue until the jury issues a verdict. Meantime, the convicted pedophile who was subsequently charged with the Ryan Harris murder awaits trial. Cheryl Corley, NPR News.
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