RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
A judge in Chicago threw out the felony drug convictions of 15 black men yesterday. And defense attorneys called it an unprecedented mass exoneration. NPR's Cheryl Corley reports it's the latest chapter in the scandal involving a former Chicago cop.
CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: After their convictions were overturned, about a dozen of the men stood with defense attorneys and prosecutors in a courthouse lobby. They had similar stories. They said they ended up in prison or on probation because former Chicago Police Sergeant Ronald Watts framed them. The men claimed the shakedowns went on for years. Here's 36-year-old Leonard Gipson.
LEONARD GIPSON: I would never pay him. So Watts always told me, if you're not going to pay me, I'm going to get you. And every time I ran into him, he put drugs on me - every time.
CORLEY: Gipson served four years. Watts served time, too, convicted four years ago of stealing money from a drug courier who was an FBI informant. Defense attorneys with the University of Chicago's Exoneration Project helped get the cases of the 15 men tossed. Mark Rotert, the prosecutor who heads the state's attorney's Conviction Integrity Unit, says they've reviewed each of the cases.
MARK ROTERT: We concluded that, unfortunately, the police were not being truthful. And we couldn't have confidence in the integrity of their reports and their testimony. And so in good conscience, we could not see these convictions stand.
CORLEY: Prosecutors and defense attorneys say there may be more to come. They are both examining dozens more cases that involved Ronald Watts and officers under his watch.
Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago.
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