Watch CBSN Live

$36 Million For Wrongful Conviction

A court has awarded $36 million in damages to four men wrongly convicted of murder. It's the largest settlement of its kind ever in Illinois, reports CBS News Correspondent Cynthia Bowers.

They spent 18 years in prison, two of them on death row.

In their lawsuits, the men, known as the Ford Heights Four, allege police withheld evidence and ignored strong leads pointing to the real killers to deliberately frame them.

"The other men went free and actually killed other people and our men were on death row for many years," said plaintiff Attorney Jeffrey Hass.

In a written statement prosecutors said this settlement compensates the four men fairly, but Dennis Williams, one of two sentenced to die, disagrees. "If they could give me back the entire 18 years they took out of my life, then that would be compensation," Williams said.

Williams was in his early twenties when he was arrested for the killing of a young couple. He says sheriff's deputies put a gun to his head and told him, "if I didn't confess that they would splatter my brains all over the wall."

"How can we continue to trust our system to put people to death when we know the system is so broken we have to pay 36 million dollars to fix the damages caused to these individuals?" asked lawyer Larry Marshall.

There are other similar cases pending. So far 11 condemned men in Illinois have been freed, including Anthony Porter, who came within two days of his execution.

Such cases have led to increasing demands to put an end to the death penalty in Illinois.

View CBS News In